Queens University of Charlotte reflects on a somber legacy with slavery

·3 min read
Queens University News Service

Queens University of Charlotte’s involvement with slavery is disappointing but not surprising, according to a task force uncovering the history of the issue.

A podcast series featuring interviews with task force members and the school’s president is scheduled for distribution in early April. Excerpts from interviews conducted by students reveal that Queens’ involvement with slavery was unfortunately consistent with university practices throughout the United States.

Dozens of American colleges and universities are examining the issue, including Appalachian State, Davidson, Elon, Guilford, and Wake Forest.

“I didn’t come to a Southern institution thinking that we probably didn’t have anything to do with slavery,” Queens President Daniel Lugo told student interviewers working on the project.

“It was an institution that was practiced in this nation for a very, very long time. And you don’t have to go to the South,” Lugo said. “Brown University is named after one of the most successful transporters of humans going into bondage. Yale University’s namesake, right, had incredible ties to slavery. It is a part of the American history and experience that is unavoidable.”

Lugo joined Queens in July 2019 and formed the Queens Task Force on the History of Slavery and Its Legacies in March 2020. One of the task force’s earliest conclusions led to a recommendation to rename a prominent historic building on campus.

Evidence hiding in plain sight

“Factually, some of the materials and some of the historical evidence were hiding in plain sight,” Lugo said. Archival information on involvement in slavery by the Rev. Robert Burwell and his wife, Margaret Anna Burwell, was uncovered by students in fall 2019. Ultimately, after researching the context and narratives of named buildings on campus, the university’s board of trustees followed a task force recommendation to remove the Burwell name from one of Queens’ oldest buildings. It was renamed Queens Hall on July 2, 2020.

Research into other Queens building and space names did not reveal findings that would require the university to rename them, said Darryl White Sr., who co-chaired the task force with Sarah Fatherly, provost, vice president of academic affairs, and professor of history. White is assistant dean for diversity, inclusion and community engagement. But going forward, White said, the vetting process for naming buildings would be far more thorough. Process details and other findings and recommendations of the report are publicly available.

Lugo formed a second task force in 2021 to examine how the university is doing with diversity, equity and inclusion, White said. Issues being examined include minority representation within student, faculty and staff populations, diversity within the academic curriculum, community engagement and service learning.

One product of the slavery task force now being planned, White said, is an interpretive display of information discovered in university archives, produced by students.

Consortium of universities wrestles with the issue

Another result, said Fatherly, is Queens’ membership in the national Universities Studying Slavery consortium. Almost 100 universities in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom are involved, focused on sharing best practices and guiding principles about truth-telling projects addressing human bondage and racism in institutional histories. In North Carolina, the schools also include Appalachian State, Davidson, Elon, Guilford, Meredith College, Salem Academy and College, and Wake Forest.

“Queens has a really important opportunity to first make sure that we are doing this work on ourselves,” Fatherly said. “I think it actually matters a lot. I don’t think that’s mutually exclusive to helping the community, whether it be Myers Park or whether it be Charlotte writ large, engaging them in conversations about this.” Queens is also participating in projects and research with the Charlotte Racial Justice Consortium, she said.

Production of the podcast’s nine episodes is now being finalized by its director, Joe Cornelius, assistant professor of multimedia storytelling in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens. It will be released in early April. Cornelius taught the class that produced the podcast interviews with Eric Scott, director of exhibits and programs at the Levine Museum of the New South.

This story resulted from work by student producers of the podcast series: Mallory Theresa Beck, Kristen Rose Dando, Alyssa DiLascio, Shawna Ahadi Muthoni Gikori, Patrick Iknayan, Knyia McClean, Anthony Molinari Jr., Jacob Murphy, Christopher Domenic Ragosta, and Christian Andres Ramos.

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