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Historian confronts slavery and racism

By Staff | Sep 9, 2016

“A White Historian Confronts American Slavery” is the title of a Lifelong Learning program to be held at Shepherd University’s Byrd Center on Wed. Sept. 14 from 12:30 to 2 p.m.

Award-winning historian and author, Susan Strasser will present an illustrated talk about lynching, race riots and segregation as she hopes to serve people grappling with current day issues of race and racism in our country.

Strasser, a Richards Professor of American History Emerita at the University of Delaware has developed this latest speaking series in response to the murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and to the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a written statement Strasser said, “I asked myself what I could do to help confront the ongoing crisis of racial violence and white supremacy in the U.S., and I realized that I could contribute my skills as a historian. Looking at history forces us to be honest with ourselves in ways we otherwise wouldn’t.”

Sympathetic to the Civil Rights movement that was in full swing in the nation, a 15 year-old Strasser picketed the Woolworth’s in her home town in support of the lunch counter sit-ins in the south and traveled to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. describe his dream, which she says was her dream, too.

Strasser has authored numerous articles and three books, “Never Done: A History of American Housework,” “Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market” and “Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash.”

“One of my students introduced me to Susan Strasser’s work on the topic at hand,” said Karen Rice, director of the Lifelong Learning program. “She (the student) asked if this type of lecture is something I’d be interested in sharing. I said, ‘absolutely.'”

Rice continued, “I hope we can reach a very broad demographic. The Lifelong Learning program is generally geared toward retirees, but anyone is invited to our events. I hope to have a good mix of students, faculty, staff and public attendees. We’re trying to reach out to everyone.”

Shepherd University has a campus wide reading program called, Common Reading where a book is selected as a suggested read for any staff, faculty or students who want to participate. The purpose is to provide a common academic experience and to create a sense of community. Rice said that Strasser’s topic happens to coincide well with the book choice this year, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson. A New York Times best seller, the book is a social justice narrative chronicling Stevenson’s legal cases with the poor and wrongly condemned.

Rice hopes that the overlap in the two programs will encourage positive discussion and delving deeper into these important issues.

The lecture is free and open to the public and will be held in the auditorium of the Byrd Center at 213 N. King Street.