The Washington College History Project
We are a group of nearly three dozen faculty, staff, and students committed to engaging contemporary audiences in conversations about our past as a way to affect positive change in our present campus culture. It is our fervent hope that, through this work, we can abolish any deep-seated prejudices, changing hearts and minds by sharing our history—and the omissions of history—that illuminate the imperative for all of us to treat our fellow humans with dignity and respect. We stand with people of color who have been marginalized and victimized throughout our nation’s history, from past eras to the present day. The Washington College History Project takes as its charge the honest and forthright examination of the institution’s troubling historical legacy of racism and the urgent need to acknowledge and reconcile this history in order to dismantle racial injustices in the present moment.
In 2019, concerned students drew attention to a late 18th-century painting of a Chestertown plantation, ‘A View of White House Farm" (above), hanging outside the President's Office. Displaying this romanticized depiction of white supremacy and enslavement, with Washington College sitting peacefully on a hill in the distance, in one of the College’s most important spaces, students said, showed how far we are from an honest understanding of our past. The call to move the painting led to its removal and temporary storage in the College archives. This significant change was one of many student-led actions in 2019 and 2020 that have helped lead to the formation of the Washington College History Group—and, beyond it, to the College’s commitment to uncover and acknowledge its real past, and to work today to build a truly inclusive community.
The Washington College History Project, initiated in the Summer of 2020 by the President of Washington College, has a three-part mission:
- To illuminate George Washington's and Washington College's historical connection to enslavement and race;
- To acknowledge this history through public statements and symbolic actions;
- And to work for change on our campus and in our campus culture in response to this historical legacy.
What We Intend to Accomplish
This group.is tasked with bringing to light George Washington's and Washington College's historical connection to enslavement and race. Faculty in the Department of History and staff in the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience have been exploring those connections for the past several years. The committee members are:
- Carol Wilson, The Arthur A. and Elizabeth R. Knapp Professor of American History (Chair)
- Marcia Landskroener M'02, Senior Director of Strategic Communications
- Ken Miller, Associate Professor of History
- Pat Nugent, Interim Director, Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience
This group is tasked with framing our messaging and communicating the work of the "Find" and the "Reconcile" groups. The committee members are:
- Raven Bishop, Instructional Technologist (Chair)
- Elena Deanda, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies
- Tara Gladden, Gallery Director and Curator for Kohl Gallery
- Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience
- Michael Harvey, Interim Provost and Dean of the College
- Lorna Hunter, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing
- Marcia Landskroener M'02, Senior Director of Strategic Communications
- Kevin O’Keefe '74, College Trustee Emeritus
- Jason Patterson, Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellow
- Victor Sensenig, Chief of Staff and Project Chair
This group is tasked with developing and recommending actionable items that will help begin the healing process as we work for change on our campus and in our campus culture. The committee members are:
- Carese Bates, Director of the Office of Intercultural Affairs
- Susie Chase '90 P'21, Vice President for Advancement
- Evan Clayton, Assistant Sailing Coach
- Sarah Feyerherm, Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs
- Claire Hansen '14, Diversity Liaison
- Pat McMenamin '87 P'16, Past Chair of the Alumni Board
- Ruth Shoge, Dean of Library and Academic Technology (retired)
- Christine Wade, Professor of Political Science and International Studies
A Call for Social Justice
Not since the March on Washington 57 years ago have the American people rallied together with such frustration and urgency to demand racial justice. Unprovoked violence and brutality against people of color have set off a series of protests. Given social and political polarizations fragmenting communities across the nation, Washington College has had its own share of racial strife. We call for change. And it starts here, with the Washington College History Project.
The racial inequities that Civil Rights activists sought to address in 1963 have their roots in the legacy of slavery and racial oppression upon which our nation was built. As the first college chartered in the new nation, Washington College was complicit in that system of racism. It is well past time to acknowledge that hurtful history and to begin to make amends.
What is Happening Now
On the Black History of Kent County and Washington College
This collection of artwork is the culmination of a two-year project by history based artist Jason Patterson that began during his time as the Frederick Douglass visiting fellow at Washington College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. This project addresses the experiences of African American lives, starting in post-colonial Kent County, Maryland and at Washington College, the first college established in the United States after the new nation's founding.
Legacies of Education and the Black Experience at Washington College and in Kent County
Legacy Day celebrates the rich heritage of African Americans in Kent County. In the midst of the pandemic, organizers hosted a virtual celebration on Aug. 15—a highlight of which was a community conversation organized by the College's Kohl Gallery and supported by a Chesapeake Heartland Staff/Faculty Fellowship. "Legacies of Education and the Black Experience at Washington College and Kent County" was offered in conjunction with artist Jason Patterson's upcoming October exhibition: "On the Black History of Washington College and Kent County."
Moderated by Reverend Monique Davis, Pastor of Mt. Olive A.M.E. Church in Worton, Maryland, the panel included local artist Jason Patterson and collaborator Jaelon Moaney, as well as special guests Jocelyn Elmore, Darius Johnson, and Carolyn K. Erwin—all graduates of Washington College. Patterson is the Starr Center's Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellow,
Black Lives Matter Murals
Over the summer, community activists made their case to the Town of Chestertown to make a visible statement of solidarity against racism. On two Saturdays in September, supporters will come together to paint the words "Black Lives Matter" and "We Can't Breathe" on the streets of Chestertown. Volunteers are asked to sign up for one-hour shifts of painting on either High Street or College Avenue.
Chesapeake Heartland; An African American Humanities Project
Chesapeake Heartland is a new collaboration between the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington College, and a diverse array of local organizations including Sumner Hall, Kent Cultural Alliance, and Kent County Public Library. Its mission is to preserve, digitize, interpret, and make accessible materials related to African American history and culture in Kent County, Maryland, and beyond.
Slavery and Freedom at Washington College
Since the Spring of 2018, Professor of History Carol Wilson has led teams of undergraduates investigating Washington College's connection to enslavement, sharing the stories of slaveholders associated with the institution as well as those of enslaved people and free blacks working on campus.