Slavery, Amherst College, and Black lives in the Connecticut River Valley

The Racial History Steering Committee, along with the Office of the President, and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion shared current research findings and new research opportunities at a panel discussion on April 11, 2023. 


Welcome by President Michael Elliott

Mike Kelly, Co-chair of the Steering Committee on A Racial History of Amherst College and Head of Archives and Special Collections

Mike Jirik, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, A Racial History of Amherst College

Anika Lopes, Ancestral Bridges Foundation

Erika Slocumb, Ph.D. student of Black Studies at UMass, Amherst.

What is Amherst College’s historical relationship to slavery and racism? How have Black people in Amherst and Holyoke resisted oppression and built communities and vibrant cultures? The Steering Committee on A Racial History of Amherst College project  invites you to a panel discussion of the College’s historical ties to slavery and racism, and histories of Black life in Amherst and Holyoke. Presenters will share their current research followed by a larger Q&A discussion including opportunities for student involvement in further research.

In the Amherst Anti-Racism Plan, released in August 2020, then-President Biddy Martin called for a historical study of the College’s ties to slaveholding and to capital accumulation based on slavery, as well as a racial history of the College extending into present times. To do that, President Martin formed a Steering Committee on the Racial History of Amherst College. This work began in January 2021 and, in September 2022, Mike Jirik began work as the first Racial History Research Fellow.

Ancestral Bridges supports and builds programs that celebrate BIPOC arts, history, and culture in western Massachusetts. They also partner with local communities to create educational and economic opportunities so that BIPOC and disadvantaged youth can thrive. An exhibition of historic photographs curated by Ancestral Bridges is on view in Frost Library through the end of summer 2023.

Documenting the Early History of Black Lives in the Connecticut River Valley is a community-based research project in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin Counties. The project aims to document the lives of free, enslaved, and formerly enslaved Black residents of the Connecticut River Valley prior to 1900. Participating historical organizations, in collaboration with student and volunteer researchers, are performing a “deep dive” into their archival holdings.

This program is brought to you by the Racial History Steering Committee, the Office of the President, and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

This event will be recorded and made available online shortly after.