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1619 Collective Memory(ies) Symposium projects the past into the present and future

Stone Center

The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History on Thursday, Jan. 17. Artist Charles Williams will have a new exhibit in the center this spring. 

Is freedom universal? What does freedom really mean? Questions like these and more will be answered at the 1619 Collective Memory(ies) Symposium.

Speakers from communities that were forced together as a result of the slave trade and European colonialism in Africa and the Americas will join together on Monday, Nov. 11, at the 1619 Collective Memory(ies) Symposium in the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History to discuss insights and remembrance in the 400th year since enslaved Africans arrived at Jamestown in 1619.

The symposium is a culmination of the semester-long 1619 Collective Memory(ies) Project, focusing on what the arrival of Africans in the English-speaking colonies meant for European colonists, Native Americans and the Africans themselves, said Stephanie Cobert, the public communications officer for the Stone Center. 

Cobert said that instead of using a traditional lecture format, the Stone Center wanted to inspire a flow of ideas and perspectives through discussion between speakers and audience members. 

"We wanted to provide a welcoming space for people to have these conversations about what 1619 means on a historical and cultural level and to develop this understanding and think and ask questions that they might not have thought of before,” Cobert said. 

The Stone Center hopes that the symposium will lay a foundation for communities to continue having discussions related to topics of 1619 and that people will leave it feeling empowered, Cobert said. 

Jessica Krug is an assistant professor of history at George Washington University and a keynote speaker for the 1619 Collective Memory(ies) Symposium. Krug said her scholarship focuses on the history of West Central Africa and on people who ran away from the violence of the transatlantic slave trade.

Krug said her goal at the symposium is to give a more expansive and rooted version of Black history that is not connected to English colonialism and the U.S. nation-state. 

“I think the idea of 1619 and its connection to the present is a really important one, but I think it's also kind of a flawed one because it associates Black identity with a specific colonial and national experience in ways that I think are flawed,” Krug said.

She said she wants to encourage another way of thinking about Black politics and thought and potential for Black futures. 

"What I hope people get from it is the possibility of imagining a free future that's untethered from the shattered and bloody promises of nation or of empire,” Krug said. “A different understanding of Black past and Black intellectual tradition that's not rooted in the practices of empire.”

Neil Roberts is the chairperson and associate professor of Africana studies at Williams College and is another keynote speaker for the symposium. Roberts said he will address how to live free in an age of pessimism and ask questions about what freedom really means. 

Roberts will ask to whom freedom is applicable, is freedom universal and what is freedom’s opposite. He said in order to understand what it means to be free, people need to look at when enslaved Africans arrived in the U.S. in 1619 and connect it back to the present. 

"It is about how we remember the past," Roberts said. "But also how we can take that past knowledge and project it not just into our present, but also into the future."

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