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Black History Month lecture endowed by University, named after Genna Rae McNeil

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The inaugural Dr. Genna Rae Mcneil Black History Month lecture will be hosted on Sonja Haynes Stone Center. The Stone Center is pictured on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023.

The UNC campus community honors Black History Month in various forms of celebrations, including performances, exhibitions and lectures. 

On Feb. 22, the annual Black History Month lecture will honor past UNC professor Genna Rae McNeil, who was the first Black tenure-track faculty member of the history department at UNC. 

While UNC has held a Black History Month lecture for the past 18 years, this year McNeil is set to become the event's namesake. 

“I am so immensely honored that former students and other alumnae/i valued my efforts to bring truth in history to each class period and teach critical thinking,” she said in an email. "It is just so humbling that this lecture bears my name.”

Vincent Brown, the Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University, will be the keynote speaker at the lecture and will present her with the honor. 

He is the author of The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery and the producer of Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness — a documentary for the PBS series Independent Lens.

Now, the lecture series is being funded by the University rather than outside donors and supporters. At a higher level, the efforts made by smaller contributors have finally been recognized and honored with permanent financial support from the University, McNeil said.

“Even though it has been endowed, I made a personal contribution to add to the endowment, and I hope others who believe in the importance of Black History as part of U.S. and global history will consider making contributions to sustain and increase the endowment,” she said.

Sheriff Drammeh, senior program manager of The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History,  expressed how grateful he is to be a part of the series as he believes it is a historic moment for the Black community and overall acceptance of minorities on campus. 

“I have been involved for a few years now, and I’m especially delighted that the lecture has now been named—and endowed,” he said in an email statement. “Naming it not only gives apt recognition to Dr. McNeil’s tremendous contributions to the field over the years, but also her unwavering advocacy for this lecture over many, many years.”

This inaugural lecture used to be a program showcased by the history, and other supporting, departments among the campus. Now, the program has been centralized as part of main campus programs with more robust support from the administration. 

McNeil made valuable contributions to her field through her work as an author, editor and researcher and joined the University's faculty at a time when the community was mostly composed of white students and faculty. 

Lisa Lindsay, a professor and chairperson of the University's history department, said that the annual lecture is a continuing celebration of Black history on campus and beyond. 

“This lecture series is a pillar in the study of history at this University and this state, and it portrays an important message that African American history is American history,” she said. “And American history is African American history, and you can’t separate those things.”

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