Slavery conference to examine Elm City

While Americans often associate slavery exclusively with the South, a conference this weekend hopes to spread the message that the “peculiar institution” is a part of all U.S. history and even of New Haven history.

The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition is co-sponsoring the conference, entitled “Yale, New Haven and American Slavery,” with the Yale Law School. The conference, which is free and open to the public, began Thursday and will continue today and Saturday.

Robert Forbes, the associate director of the Gilder Lehrman Center, said he hopes the conference will inspire more conversation.

“I think the conference is more of a beginning than a definitive statement on the subject,” Forbes said. “I hope it opens avenues for future discussions in New Haven and in the rest of the country.”

Forbes said that he thinks the conference is important for two main reasons.

“First, this is where we are. This is our story,” he said. “Second, the somewhat unlikely story of slavery in New Haven and in Connecticut offers an interesting perspective on slavery as a national history, not just a Southern history.”

The conference’s keynote speaker, David Blight, who will be joining the Yale History Department, gave an opening address last night at the Yale Law School.

Blight spoke of the many ways of remembering.

“Memory can poison us, overwhelm us, or it can save us,” he said. “A society reconsiders the past to understand itself better.”

There are multiple events planned for the remainder of the weekend. Today there are several panel discussions scheduled, including “Slavery and Racism in the Antebellum North” at 9:00 a.m., “The Edwardsian Tradition and Post-Revolutionary Yale” at 10:45, and two more panels in the afternoon. The panelists and speakers featured throughout the day represent many schools, including the University of Kentucky and Harvard, George Washington, Hamilton, and Johns Hopkins universities.

On Saturday, Law School Dean Anthony Kronman will moderate several panels, including “The Moral Claims of the Past: Justice Across Time” as well as the final panel of the conference, “Reparations, Reconciliation and Repair: Present Remedies for Past Wrongs.”

Kronman said in his opening address Thursday night that the purpose of the conference is to open discussion, not to inspire action.

“It brings together distinguished teachers from different fields for three days of discussion and debate. It has no purpose beyond this,” Kronman said. “The conference belongs to the world of scholarship, not of politics.”

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