‘400th Exhibit’ to showcase US slavery history

Zoë Donovan

This week will kick off a series of events that seek to remember the struggle, celebrate the triumphs and identify the work ahead for African individuals in America through Eastern’s “400th Exhibit.”

History professor David Smith said he saw the need for a project like this to be a part of Eastern, seeing as it is a public university.

In the last 15 years, Smith has developed a teaching focus on the history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Four hundred years ago, the first African people were brought to North America to be traded for goods and supplies off the coast of Virginia in what would become a central hub for slavery in the colonies and later the U.S., Smith said.

“The 400th is not about focusing on what happened 400 years ago; it’s about the entire 400 years of the legacy of what would become slavery and race relations in the U.S. We’re using this moment as an opportunity to talk and think about issues of race and racism in our own society,” Smith said.

The first event of the series is the Race Card Project, which will take place at Booth Library on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Michelle Norris, a journalist who spent over a decade hosting NPR’s “All Things Considered,” started the Race Card Project in 2010.

The project asks participants to write six words describing their experiences with race.

Over fall break, a conference will be held for faculty and staff. They will utilize the responses provided by the event to discuss ideas and assumptions on issues of race.

The kickoff event will take place Tuesday in the Doudna Concourse from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. It will feature live music and refreshments.

Smith said a 15-minute multimedia display will be shown at the Black Box Theater multiple times during the event as well.

“Exactly what the status of these Africans was when they came to colonies was not clear at all. (The multimedia display) talks about that issue, where these people came from, the horrific experiences that they had especially during the middle passage and then how they come into a situation where who they are and where they fit in, in the society, isn’t defined,” Smith said.

Smith said when they started the project for Eastern, the main goal of the committee was to “get student input and direction to create meaningful events to address race and racism.”

The committee to organize the program was made up of students and faculty members, including Angela Vietto, char of the English Department, Kevin Anderson, a political science professor, Mona Davenport, director of the Diversity and Inclusion Program and several others.

The second round of events will take place Sept. 10 in the Doudna Concourse and Tarble Arts Center and include workshops and presentations on radical imagination and radical forgiveness, presented and facilitated by Amber Johnson of Saint Louis University and the Justice Fleet.


Zoë Donovan can be reached at 581–2812 or at [email protected].