The mission of the Legacies of Enslavement and Dispossession at UD committee is to coordinate and promote interdisciplinary research into the history of enslavement, dispossession, segregation, and other forms of racial injustice and inequality at the University of Delaware, and its precursor institutions. Part of the UD Anti-Racism Initiative, the committee seeks to organize regular opportunities for public-facing dialogue about this history, its legacies, and their implications. This site serves as a repository for materials related to these efforts, including original student research and recommended reading.
In the Fall 2021 semester, history professor Roger Horowitz lead a class of 14 students to create an oral history project on African Americans and the University of Delaware. With essential support from Denise Hayman and her sisters in the Mu Pi chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the class conducted 27 hours of interviews with 26 people, 9 men and 16 women. They include alumni of the university and longtime residents of Newark’s African American community known as New London Road.
The recorded memories of the interviewees convey a mixed message about their experiences at the university and in Newark. Interviewees shared many stories of personal experiences with racism and discrimination, as well as narratives of power and achievement in the community and at the university. The audio recordings are accompanied by a detailed summary indexed by time code, allowing a quick review of an interview’s contents and easy access to actual conversation.
The full set of interviews are available via a collection finding aid hosted by Special Collections at Morris Library: https://library.udel.edu/static/purl.php?mss0989. For a survey of selected topics included in the collection, including audio clips and transcripts, see the project’s digital exhibit: https://exhibitions.lib.udel.edu/oral-histories-african-americans-and-ud/.
HIST 460/660: Race and Inequality in Delaware (Fall 2021)
One of a series of new courses inspired by the UD Anti-Racism Initiative, students in the Fall 2021 edition of HIST 460/660 investigated the University of Delaware’s historical ties to slavery and neighboring African American communities. Co-taught by Professors Laura Helton and Dael Norwood, the course included graduate and undergraduate students drawn from disciplines across campus; Sylvester Woolford, Jr., an expert on African American history in Delaware, served as a Scholar-Advisor for the class.
The seminar focused on the antebellum era, the decades before the U.S. Civil War. This was a critical time in UD’s history: 1834 marks the formal founding of NewArk College, shortly renamed Delaware College, the chartered institution which later became the University of Delaware. In this period, slavery was a living institution in Delaware, and critical to the state’s political and economic life. It was controversial, and complex: one of several systems of bondage actively practiced in the state, chattel slavery was part of a broader legal regime designed to control Black labor and constrain Black civil and political rights – and resisted as such. Students in the seminar used materials held by Special Collections in Morris Library, University Archives, government records, and contemporary newspapers to investigate how both the College community and Newark residents – white and Black, enslaved and free – engaged with Delaware’s varied systems of bondage.
By recovering stories of Black life in antebellum Newark, as well as how Delaware College benefited from wealth generated from slavery and other forms of exploited Black labor, students in the course hoped to contribute to the UD community’s self-understanding. Their research represents some of the first fruits of UD’s membership in the Universities Studying Slavery consortium, an international multi-institutional collaboration committed to addressing the complicated legacies of slavery in the modern world.
Selections of HIST 460/660 students’ research can be accessed in two ways. A recording of the students’ collective presentation of their research at an online Scholar in the Library session is available through the UD Library website. Posts detailing individual students’ findings can also be found on this site, under the “HIST 460/660” tag on the Research page.