Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has undertaken a major initiative to examine its ties to slavery. The university has joined Universities Studying Slavery (USS), a consortium of colleges and universities that are examining the role slavery played on their campuses. It recently established a website – The Slavery, Race and Memory Project – where it will present the results of research into the university’s past ties to slavery.
Tim Pyatt, dean of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at the university notes that “we were founded on a former plantation in the eastern part of North Carolina in the 1830s during the peak of the slave economy. We’re no longer on the original campus that was a plantation, but we wouldn’t be the institution we are now without the start we got in eastern North Carolina. We do feel like it’s very important to acknowledge our relationship with slavery.”
Kami Chavis, professor of law and associate provost for academic initiatives, added that “slavery is an ugly part of our nation’s past and racial discrimination persists today, but many institutions have been reluctant to explore these topics. It’s important to discuss it because unless we reckon with the role that enslaved people had in building the physical structures, as well as the role they played in other aspects of Wake Forest, then we are not honoring an accurate depiction of our history.”
Professor Chavis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard Law School.