Addressing the Legacy of Slavery in America

Last fall, the Upper School history department traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum. Between 1877 and 1950, more than 4,400 African Americans were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs; the National Memorial commemorates these victims of racial terrorism. Ms. Carcaterra explains that the “monument is made of corten steel boxes which will each age and oxidize at different rates and grow stronger as they do, creating a powerful message of resilience and resistance.” Dr. Speiser calls the National Memorial “profoundly moving -- haunting in scope, searing in its memory.”

They complemented this experience with a visit to the Legacy Museum, which chronicles “the long arc of American history that reaches from slavery, Jim Crow, and lynching through to mass incarceration today,” according to Dr. Cunningham. Ms. Carcaterra says the museum is “a call to action that not only traces, but also challenges us to address, the legacy of slavery in America.” Several of the teachers also went on to drive from Montgomery to Selma along the same route that marchers took in 1965 when trying to obtain protection and access to voting rights.

Deeply moved by what they experienced, our teachers plan to incorporate elements of the trip into their curricula. For example, everyone was surprised by the challenges still facing Selma today, including a lack of multifaceted economic development. “To some degree, they mirror the broader challenges the nation faces as a whole when it comes to class, race, and inequity,” Dr. Speiser explains. “The layers of history there are embedded with these challenges, and all of it is tied up in collective memory as well conscious efforts at memorialization -- seeking to redefine the past and repurpose it for the present. In my U.S. History classes, I plan to use Selma as a case study to help students examine the relationship between history and memory.” Dr. Cunningham agrees, saying, “I am already imagining how I will recast my U.S. History teaching to be more intentional about continuities and changes over time and to highlight that progress is always conditional on the will not only to achieve, but also to sustain it.”