LBJ School hosts panel discussing historical context of Black Lives Matter

Allyson Waller

Black Lives Matter is still trying to address issues created by 19th-century American slavery, according to an academic panel at day-long event “Black Lives Mattered Then and Now” on Tuesday.

The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy hosted two panels about slavery, capitalism and American race relations at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. At the second panel, Steven Hahn, New York University professor and Pulitzer Prize winner, said even though African Americans were economically disenfranchised in the past, they still continued to fight for the promises offered by American democracy.

“Our democratic political culture so far, as it’s been maintained, has had no stronger supporters over our history than African Americans as slaves and as free people and as their descendants,” Hahn said.

Kendra Fields, assistant professor of history and Africana studies at Tufts University, used a quote from W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Black Reconstruction” to show how African Americans have been historically misrepresented in the United States and how these negative stereotypes have been perpetuated throughout American society.

“When we think about the uses of the past, it’s never without its liabilities,” Fields said. “The use and the abuse of the past has been the story of American history.”

Walter Johnson, professor of history and African American studies at Harvard University, said the many organizational chapters of Black Lives Matter across the U.S. are admirable in their systematic approach to uplifting black communities through education, mobilization and the circulation of dialogue. Black Lives Matter is not afraid to remind audiences of past injustices, including American slavery and present-day police brutality against minorities, Hahn said.

“I think it’s really one of the first movements that is global, is aware of political economy questions (and) has ranges of demands that connect with the experiences of a lot of people,” Hahn said.

Esther Kim, curriculum and instruction graduate student, said she appreciated how the event tied the issues Black Lives Matter seeks to address to issues of the past. Kim said providing greater historical context about Black Lives Matter could improve acceptance of the movement by more conservative individuals.

“I come from very traditionally conservative spaces, and I think the way that it’s viewed there is really problematic,” Kim said. “I really think what I would love to see is an understanding of the history.”