Legacies of American Slavery

About the Project

Please visit legaciesofslavery.net for the latest news about this initiative, including application guidelines for two special programs in Summer 2023: a Faculty Seminar (June 18–22, 2023) and a Public History Institute (July 30–August 4, 2023).
Slavery has often been called America’s “original sin,” and Americans of all races have grappled with the history and multiple legacies of slavery for generations. America’s colleges and universities have always been deeply enmeshed in this history—in some cases, because of their geographic locations or their unique institutional histories (including those that were founded by slave owners or established to educate freedpeople and their descendants). Many independent colleges already pursue innovative research, teaching, and community engagement to enhance understanding of the legacies of slavery. Others are poised to forge robust partnerships with community and regional organizations to promote public discussion of contentious issues and explore ways that the legacies of slavery might be addressed through civic action. This project is designed to support initiatives at the campus, regional, and national levels.

Legacies of American Slavery is a multi-year project, providing a variety of opportunities for CIC member institutions, their faculty members and students, and community-based partners to participate in research, teaching and learning, and public discussions about the legacies of American slavery. In February 2021, CIC announced the selection of seven institutions that will serve as Regional Collaboration Partners—that is, the coordinating hubs for a national network of other colleges, universities, and community partners. The Regional Collaboration Partners will play an essential role in shaping and administering the national network, using funds provided by CIC. CIC also named a dozen colleges and universities (listed below) as Institutional Affiliates. These institutions will play a key role in developing the national network.

Legacies Network activities began in earnest in summer 2021. The Regional Collaboration Partners will host a series of thematic conferences in fall 2022 and continue to collaborate with other CIC institutions and community-based partners through 2024. In addition, summer workshops for faculty members will be hosted by Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition (GLC) in 2022–2023, and a national conference will be held in spring 2024.

Legacies of American Slavery is an initiative of the Council of Independent Colleges, in cooperation with the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at the MacMillan Center, Yale University. It is supported by a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation with supplemental funding from the National Endowment for the HumanitiesAny views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities..

The Legacies Network

​Regional Collaboration Partners

The following institutions will serve as Regional Collaboration Partners, with a primary focus on six legacy themes:

  • Austin College (TX): “Racial Violence and Resistance”
  • Centenary College of Louisiana (LA) and Huston-Tillotson University (TX), in partnership: “Race, Health, and Medicine”
  • Dillard University (LA): “Cultural Creativity”
  • Lewis University (IL): “Race, Place, and Migration,” with “Mass Incarceration” as a secondary theme
  • Meredith College (NC): “Contested Citizenship,” with “Economic Disparities” as a secondary theme
  • Sewanee: The University of the South (TN): “Commemoration and Memory”

Institutional Affiliates

These colleges and universities have demonstrated a powerful commitment to exploring and reckoning with the effects of slavery on the lives of their institutions, their communities, and the nation as a whole:

  • Bloomfield College (NJ)
  • Columbia College Chicago (IL)
  • Drury University (MO)
  • Fisk University (TN)
  • Fontbonne University (MO)
  • Johnson C. Smith University (NC)
  • Messiah University (PA)
  • Roanoke College (VA)
  • Shenandoah University (VA)
  • Tougaloo College (MS)
  • Ursuline College (OH)
  • Wofford College (SC)

Virtual Symposium

Virtual Symposium

Legacies of Slavery: Past, Present & Future

April 5–7, 2022

Presented by the Council of Independent Colleges in collaboration with the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at the MacMillan Center at Yale University

View program details and recordings of the sessions.

What Is a Legacy of Slavery?

​An Essay by David Blight

Because slavery is so central to the history of the United States—its origins, economic development, society, culture, politics, and law—it has left in its wake a wide array of legacies that seem ever-present yet ever-changing in our world. Sometimes the question of slavery’s legacy seems out-of-focus, inaccessible, or expressed in fuzzy language. Other times the legacy of slavery and emancipation may confront us when we least expect it. In 1961, in an essay in the New York Times titled “As Much Truth as One Can Bear,” James Baldwin observed that when Americans reflect on their history, the “words are mostly used to cover the sleeper, not to wake him up.” Indeed, the living meanings, surviving challenges, and sometimes seemingly intractable problems born of great events or vast human practices and systems from the past are what make history matter. This is why legacies matter. And that is why the Council of Independent Colleges and the Gilder Lehrman Center have launched the Legacies of American Slavery project....

What then is a legacy? A historical legacy can be an idea or an eternally recurring question at the root of a dream—for example, “Why is human equality so hard to achieve?” A legacy can be emotional, manifesting itself in habits of thought, assumptions, behaviors, and lasting psychological patterns of struggle, action, or expectation. A legacy can be political, emerging in voting tendencies and recurring public policy issues. A legacy can be economic, evolving in patterns of growth and access or lack of access to material goods, services, human capital. A legacy can exist in law, in court decisions, in government policies that change when challenged or revert to older practices in times of reaction. Legacies can be laid down and commemorated in stone, in bronze, in musical traditions, in all manner of artistic forms. Legacies can be embodied in a very literal sense, as patterns of health and disease that can be traced to past experience through medical research. A legacy might be as local as a family story passed from generation to generation, or as big as a national origin narrative. Legacies can be institutional, growing as part of organizations that exist to educate, advocate, preserve, protest, or advance a set of ideas....

PDFRead the full essay by David Blight.

David Blight headshotDavid W. Blight is Sterling Professor of History, of African American Studies, and of American Studies at Yale University, where he also directs the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. His latest book, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, received the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2019. His previous books include Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory and American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era. Prior to joining the Yale faculty in 2003, Blight taught at Amherst College, North Central College, Harvard University, and the public high school in his home town of Flint, Michigan. Blight is the director of CIC’s Legacies of American Slavery project.

​CIC invites member institutions to submit applications to serve as one of six Regional Collaboration Partners. Each Partner will coordinate regional activities including a mix of research, professional development for its own faculty members and those at other colleges, undergraduate teaching and learning, and public programs developed in cooperation with community-based organizations. The mix of activities will vary depending on the theme, location, and network each Partner creates.

PDFCase Study: What Will Regional Collaboration Partners Do?

Partners will be selected according to the following criteria:


CIC and the Gilder Lehrman Center have identified nine significant legacies of American slavery to serve as organizing themes for the collective work of the national network (see “Overview of the Legacy Themes”). Each Regional Collaboration Partner will focus on one or at most two closely related themes, and no other Partner will focus on the same theme(s). Proposals should address why the institution is especially well prepared to focus on a chosen theme. This might include factors distinctive to the history of the institution; specific library, archival, or museum collections held by the institution; relevant expertise of the faculty and staff; ongoing initiatives in a related area; existing collaborations with regional colleges and universities or other community partners that are relevant to the theme; or other relevant community resources and local or regional expertise.


Slavery was a national institution and the legacies of slavery affect all parts of the United States—even parts of the nation where slavery was never in force or states that did not exist in 1861. But the legacies of slavery are often tied in powerful ways to very specific geographic locations, which can become the locus for powerful teaching and public engagement. Applicants should explain why the chosen legacy theme has particular relevance and resonance for the institution’s community or region. For example, a college located in the Cotton Belt of the South might propose to take the lead in exploring the economic legacies of slavery from the Civil War until today; a university located near the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri (where the infamous Dred Scott decision was handed down) might focus on the constitutional legacy of slavery; an institution in or near a Northern city such as Chicago or Detroit might focus on the Great Migration of the early 20th century and the subsequent impact of racial segregation; an institution in the Bay Area of California, birthplace of the Black Panthers, might focus on economic disparities or race and resistance; and an institution located near any of the great centers of African American artistic production—from Hollywood to Harlem—might focus on the cultural legacies of slavery.


For three years, CIC will provide each Regional Collaboration Partner with annual operational grants of up to $60,000 to support project administration and core program activities involving additional colleges and community organizations in the region. Additional support will be available for regional conferences in spring 2021, the participation by selected faculty members from the Partners in summer programs and research fellowships at the GLC, and other program activities. CIC and the GLC also will assist the Partners through site visits, monthly conference calls, and access to the GLC network of scholars. However, much of the administrative responsibility for the distributed network of participants will be accepted by the Partners, who must take the initiative to forge partnerships and coordinate activities within their regions and also draw upon relevant resources from other regions and other national partners. Proposals should describe the institutional resources, experience, regional connections, and capacity that the institution would bring to the role of Regional Collaboration Partner.

Overview of Legacy Themes

​Each of the Regional Collaboration Partners will focus on one of the following significant legacies of American slavery. This is not an exhaustive list. Indeed, CIC expects that institutional and regional activities across the network of participants will address other legacies of slavery as well, and that institutions or individual faculty members will have compelling reasons to focus on a legacy theme that is coordinated by a regional partner outside of their home region. PDFDownload a detailed list of Legacy Themes.


The selective commemoration and remembrance of slavery, the Civil War, emancipation, and segregation—as well as the expansion of civil rights and the celebration of African American history and identity—through memorials, statues, architecture, place names, or other expressions.


Persistent disparities of wealth, income, and home ownership by race; persistent industrial and economic underdevelopment in parts of the South and cities across the nation; and varieties of unfree and semi-free labor since emancipation.


The constitutional legacy of slavery—reflected in the jurisprudence initiated by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments—and broader conflicts about rights (especially voting rights), liberties, and civic responsibilities based on race.


Cultural expression in all its forms as a way to understand and cope with slavery and its aftermath, including artistic legacies in theater, art, dance, music, poetry, and fiction, but also in popular culture, folklore, and folkways.


Organized violence against former slaves and their descendants as well as the organized and ad hoc efforts by African Americans and their allies to resist state and extrajudicial violence.


The disproportionate representation of African Americans and other people of color in the criminal justice system as well as the effects of incarceration on families, communities, and the formerly incarcerated.


The impact of internal migrations both before and after Emancipation, such as the “Great Migration” of Southern blacks to Northern cities that began in the early 20th century and spurred new forms of spatial segregation (such as “redlining”).


Slavery’s lasting effects on America’s agricultural system, natural resources, and landscape, explored through environmental history, environmental ethics, and other tools.


The social and physical legacy of American slavery as reckoned in persistent race-based inequalities in health care, childbirth, and early childhood outcomes—as well as community-based healing and health care traditions.

Applications must be submitted online and are due by Friday, April 10, 2020. Access the application form. Complete applications will include the following:
  1. A narrative statement of no more than six (6) pages that addresses:

    • The choice of legacy theme(s)—no more than two, in ranked order—and why the institution is especially prepared to address the selected theme(s).

    • The relevance of the institution’s geographic location to the chosen theme(s).

    • Institutional resources and capacity. This should take into account the expertise of faculty and staff members, logistical capacity to manage and host meetings and other activities, and the administrative and financial responsibilities of serving as a Regional Collaboration Partner. The statement should include examples of previous or current initiatives of similar scope involving collaborations with other CIC member colleges and/or community partners. It should also include details about the relevant resources of other colleges and potential community partners in the region.

    • The relevant experience and campus roles of two people who will serve as program managers if the institution is selected as a Regional Collaboration Partner. The team should include a full-time member of the faculty with relevant subject expertise and a senior administrator. If the institution is selected as a finalist, this team will be expected to represent the institution at the national planning meeting to be held at Yale University, August 6–8, 2020.
  2. Brief biographies of the two campus representatives identified in the narrative.

  3. A letter of support from the institution’s president that affirms the institution’s commitment to key points that are detailed in the application. Letters of commitment from potential regional partners are not required.

Note: Approximately 20 institutions will be selected as finalists by May 1, 2020, and invited to participate in a national planning meeting to be held at Yale University (in New Haven, Connecticut) August 6–8, 2020. CIC will provide travel support, lodging, and most meals for two representatives from each institutional finalist.

After the planning meeting, six Regional Collaboration Partners will be selected from the pool of finalists and notified by September 1, 2020. CIC and GLC staff will work closely with the Partners to plan regional conferences to be held in spring 2021 and other activities.


​As part of the Legacies of American Slavery project, the project staff is curating a public list of existing resources at independent colleges and universities related to the legacies of slavery. A prototype of the resources database is now available. This is not a comprehensive list of resources or initiatives at CIC member institutions but a sampling of efforts to engage students and the public through curricular materials, research publications, archives, oral and digital exhibitions, podcasts, and more. The database will soon be searchable and sortable by multiple criteria, including the PDFnine legacy themes.

Please let CIC know about other resources that might be added to the database by contacting us at  LegaciesProject@cic.edu. You should include a very brief description, a public web link, a contact for further details, and an indication of which legacy theme(s) might be addressed using the resource. The description and web link may be included in a print and/or web publication for public distribution; submission of these details will be considered permission for CIC to publish the details (but not the actual resource) in any format.

CIC hosted an informational webinar for prospective applicants on February 19, 2020. PDFThe presentation slides and a recording of the webinar are now available. A set of questions and answers raised during the webinar will be posted here soon.

Contact Information

​For questions about the Legacies of American Slavery initiative, contact Philip M. Katz, CIC director of projects, at (202) 466-7230 or pkatz@cic.edu.