Emma Brentjens ‘21
In a recent lecture at Michigan State University, Dr. Hilary Green told a story from her second semester teaching at the University of Alabama (UA) during January 2015, when a student claimed, “slavery did not exist on our campus.” This comment prompted Green to start assembling her Hallowed Grounds: Race, Memory and the University of Alabama campus tour. “I was in the archives that February,” she said.
On January 24th, Davidson announced that Dr. Green, currently an associate professor of American Studies and Gender and Race Studies at Alabama, will be the next Vann Professor of Ethics in Society. Dr. Green is a Civil War and Reconstruction scholar and founder of the Hallowed Grounds project, which works to bring to light the difficult history of slavery at Alabama.
Last spring, Dr. Green spoke at the Slavery, Violence, and the Archive Symposium hosted by Davidson’s Africana Studies department. Ellie Kincaid ‘20, who attended the symposium, said that Dr. Green spoke about “how she’s uncovering the history of racial violence at Alabama and then making that public information.” To Kincaid, Dr. Green’s accessible activism set her apart.
Jennifer Thompson ‘20 was also impressed by Dr. Green’s scholarship at the conference, saying, “to see the way she’s operated in that space of confinement historically has been enlightening, because there are projects underway at Davidson that sort of follow along the lines of things that she herself mentioned.” For instance, Dr. Green gives tours at UA similar to the Disorientation Tours that were led on Davidson’s campus.
The tours Dr. Green leads center around the history of buildings and monuments on Alabama’s campus as they relate to the institution’s involvement in the slave trade. The tour includes the Presidents’ Mansion and a marker commemorating the university’s public apology for using the labor of enslaved people.
Dr. Green’s hire has sparked discussion about the underutilization of the archives at Davidson. Thompson noted that there are not many professors that work closely with the archives. “There’s a difference between hearing [or] reading something […] and seeing it for yourself, and I think [Dr. Green] will be that difference,” she said.
While at Davidson, Dr. Green said she plans to collaborate with the Commission on Race and Slavery “in developing creative ways in presenting the campus history to current and future students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders.” Through this work, she hopes “to ensure transparency in the work and make Davidson into a model for other institutions.”
Saidah Rahman ‘20, one of two student members on the Commission, explained that although there is a historian and an archivist on the Commission, the current members “aren’t really experts in this material.” She added,“To have someone who specializes in this type of work I think will be really important, and it’s good that Davidson has put those resources into bringing her on campus.”
Rahman said she feels that the Commission has “been a closed-off group.” She hopes that Dr. Green’s professorship will help more students become involved with the Commission. “I’m sure as students start to take Dr. Hilary Green’s class and get more interested and more knowledgeable about this type of work, then I hope they’ll take some initiative on it as well,” she said. Bry Reed ‘20, the second student on the Commission, agreed that “it is important for more students to get involved and ask questions of the Commission.”
Dr. Laurian Bowles, chair of the Anthropology department and professor on the Commission, also spoke to the significance of non-members, saying “The Commission is not the processual/implementation group, the entire community is.”
Thompson mentioned an important aspect of Dr. Green’s work at UA is recognizing the history of buildings and landmarks. “I’d be really excited to see developments like that in partnership with the Commission on Race and Slavery,” she said. “I think something that we do at Davidson is we try to mask… our history, but we don’t actually use it to better ourselves as an institution,” she added.
Kincaid agreed that signs contextualizing landmarks “could have a huge impact on branding our campus.” As an example, she referred to Davidson’s acclamation of former president Woodrow Wilson, who had a problematic past. “If we’re going to recruit students of color here and want to make them feel welcome, then it makes no sense to celebrate Woodrow Wilson and disavow everything else,” she said.
Reed expressed that acknowledging the names of buildings is crucial in recognizing “that there was a point in time where Davidson College supported this behavior and saw it fit to name a building after Maxwell Chambers.” While the reason for Chambers’ fortune remains unclear, some think he was involved in the slave trade. Reed additionally stressed the importance of a monument “dedicated to the enslaved folks whose labor went into building Davidson. All these red bricks didn’t get here on their own.”
Dr. Green is the second Vann Professor of Ethics in Society after Bill Kristol, a neoconservative who was met with criticism from students for his political beliefs. Thornton said that, from his perspective, there was “a very strong student response against Bill Kristol.” Thornton also noted an overall increase in “student activism [to] get new departments and get funding for departments.” Likewise, Kincaid mentioned “protests for more Africana staff and more administrative support.”
Reed thinks “that professorships really do tell a lot about what a campus is supporting, because professorships come with salaries and power to educate others.” In considering the people the administration brings to campus, she added that while “it’s important to have conversations, we have to remember what conversations need to be had and which ones are just opportunities to gaslight students of color.”
When asked about the shift from a professor like Kristol to one like Dr. Green, Reed said, “I think Davidson in some part recognizes the mistakes that were made with giving Bill Kristol that professorship.”
Dr. Green’s professorship has inspired hope and excitement among students. “I think we’re really lucky to have her come here,” Kincaid said.
Dr. Green, too, is excited to return to North Carolina to teach, saying to The Davidsonian that “This new role will allow me to have a deeper level of engagement and participate with the entire Davidson community in reconciling this complicated history.”