2020 Provost Lecture Series

Portraits of speakers in the provosts series

The theme for the inaugural Provost and Dean of the Faculty’s Lecture Series is the history of anti-Black racism in America. As James Baldwin famously wrote, “The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it...history is literally present in all that we do.” Underpinning and guiding this series is the conviction that history is a powerful and necessary tool for helping us deepen our understanding of racism in America today. The series launched with a talk by Professor Mary Frances Berry on Wednesday, August 26, 2020.

In separate lectures that took place over the course of the 2020 fall semester, four of the nation’s foremost scholars of African American history introduced key issues in African American legal and political history, exploring the theme of the history of anti-Black racism in America. Each talk highlighted and contextualized past, current, and ongoing protests for racial justice.

In fighting for Black lives, activists have called for the abolition and/or reform of both policing and prisons; they have pointed out the impact of COVID-19 on Black and brown communities; and they have fought for greater recognition of Black women as both leaders in the movement and victims of police violence. Many individuals and organizations have already moved to action. This series offered Amherst College students, faculty, and staff an opportunity to engage with distinguished historians who have dedicated their lives to understanding the history of anti-Black racism in America—with the hope that such knowledge will lead to real and lasting change.

This lecture series was sponsored by the Provost and Dean of the Faculty and supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the cultivation of public scholarship in the humanities at Amherst College.

Event Videos

From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime

November 17, 2020

In this talk, Elizabeth Hinton, associate professor in the Department of History and the Department of African American Studies at Yale, and a professor of law at Yale Law School, examines the persistence of poverty, racial inequality, and urban violence in the 20th century in the United States.

The Condemnation of Blackness

October 14, 2020

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor of history, race, and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the Suzanne Young Murray Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, discusses how the history of the idea of Black criminality was crucial to the making of modern urban America.

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All

September 22, 2020

Professor Martha Jones discusses the history of African American women who defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons.

Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations

August 26, 2020

Hosted by Jen Manion, associate professor of history at Amherst College, Dr. Mary Frances Berry discusses “Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations” in the first lecture in the History of Anti-Black Racism in America Lecture Series.

The Seminar

A Learning Community Open to Amherst College Students, Faculty, and Staff

Sponsored by the Provost and Dean of the Faculty

An extension of the lecture series, the accompanying non-credit seminar was open to Amherst College students, faculty, and staff. The seminar, sponsored by the provost and dean of the faculty, was designed with the goal of inspiring curiosity, collaborative learning, and community growth. Participants were encouraged to attend the four public lectures that make up the series, complete related readings, and meet virtually for small-group discussions four times over the course of the fall 2020 semester.