The Broken Heart of America: A Conversation with Walter Johnson ’88

March 9, 2021

Associate Professor Khary Polk moderated a conversation with Walter Johnson ’88, Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, about lessons from the research for his new book, The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States. Read more

A portrait photo of Walter Johnson
Walter Johnson ’88

Walter Johnson '88 grew up in Columbia, Missouri, and is a member of the Rock Bridge High School Hall of Fame (2006). He graduated from Amherst College in 1988, and received his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1995. He has taught at Wesleyan and NYU as well as Harvard, and has received fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Guggenheim Foundation.

His prize-winning books, Soul by Soul: Life Inside in the Antebellum Slave Market (1999) and River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Mississippi Valley's Cotton Kingdom (2013), were published by Harvard University Press. His autobiographical essay, “Guns in the Family,” was included the 2019 edition of Best American Essays; it was originally published in the Boston Review, of which Johnson is a contributing editor. His most recent book, The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States (2020) is a searing portrait of the racial dynamics that lie inescapably at the heart of our nation, told through the turbulent history of the city of St. Louis.

Johnson is a founding member of the Commonwealth Project, which brings together academics, artists, and activists in an effort to imagine, foster, and support revolutionary social change, beginning in St. Louis, Missouri.

A portrait photo of Khary Polk
Khary Oronde Polk, moderator

Khary Oronde Polk is Associate Professor of Black Studies & Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies at Amherst College. He is a cultural historian of the African American diaspora, and teaches courses on race & the American imagination and Black European studies. He is a member of the African Atlantic Research Group, and recently held a visiting professorship at the JFK Institute for North American Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. His book, Contagions of Empire: Scientific Racism, Sexuality, and Black Military Workers Abroad, 1898–1948, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2020.