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Landback Abolition Project reflects on historical enslaved labor at UNC

The Sept. 21 event organized by the UNC Landback Abolition Project took place at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center.

“We carry the names but not the privilege of the people who built this great University."

That's what Danita Mason-Hogans, a seventh-generation Chapel Hill resident, said at an event organized by the UNC Landback Abolition Project on Sept. 21.

Civil rights historian, educator and activist Mason-Hogans gave this comment about her family at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History. The event was the Landback Abolition Project’s second in-person gathering since its creation last fall. 

Mason-Hogans was one of the two featured speakers at the event, along with Shuhud Mustafa, a UNC senior engaged in research with the Landback Abolition Project. 

“I think we’re kind of just now starting to get into the groove of hosting events and having enough research compiled and enough people involved to do that,” Mackie Jackson, a UNC junior and the project’s social media manager, said. 

The project is based in the UNC geography department and facilitates public-facing primary research centered around how UNC has benefitted from enslaved labor and the sale of Native lands. 

During the event, Mustafa presented research that she began conducting in spring 2023 advised by professor Sara Smith. She described her research as centering on connections between policing and the University. 

In her presentation, Mustafa said her research has led her to note that police mobilization on campus has historically been tied with student protests — specifically anti-racist protests. 

She also said she hopes her personal research, as well as the larger Landback Abolition Project, is able to increase transparency in regard to the University's history.

“The University has been very secretive about a lot of the harm that it has perpetuated against communities of color and other marginalized communities,” Mustafa said. “I think it’s about time that we begin to kind of unravel those aspects of harm and call the University out on it.”

Following Mustafa’s presentation, Mason-Hogans spoke on her family’s history in relation to the Town of Chapel Hill and to UNC. 

“I think that a lot of young people who came to UNC don’t know just how intertwined Black people’s history is at Carolina,” Mason-Hoganssaid. “Not only did we build these lands, but the fact that Black people were used as an economic foundation to the University I think is very powerful.”

In her presentation, Mason-Hogans emphasized the importance of centering local stories from descendants of enslaved people.

“We can talk about the enslavement, but we need to talk about this place. We need to talk about the labor that happened at this place,” she said at the event.

Mason-Hogans also emphasized the importance of productive efforts toward repair at UNC. 

“I’m a memory worker. Narrative is very important to me, and if I had the choice between taking somebody’s name off a building and getting an educational program for my children and my community, I’m taking the program,” she said in her presentation. 

Mason-Hogans said that the event was her first time engaging with the Landback Abolition Project. 

She said it was "so gratifying" to know that many young people were interested in ways to reflect on University history and land. 

Jackson said they were “blown away” by the event's turnout. 

Moving forward, they also said the project wants public input on how the University can perform tangible reparations to the community. They also hope to host more public-facing research events to share perspectives on abolition and the landback movement at UNC. 

Jackson said the Landback Abolition Project has several upcoming seminars at the beginning of October and that more information will be posted soon on the project’s Instagram.

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