Panel to look at Washtenaw County’s African American presence

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The lecture and discussion “Before the Black Action Movement: The U-M African American Student Project, Washtenaw County’s Black Communities, and the Struggle for Inclusion” will take place from 2-4 p.m. Jan. 16 in the Michigan Union’s Pendleton Room.

The event is presented by the departments of History and of Afroamerican and African studies, the Bentley Historical Library, Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies, and the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County.

Elizabeth James, the DAAS program associate who helped organize the event, said the panel was designed to shine light on the experiences of African American students at the university from 1853-1970. 

“We’re really hoping this will be an opportunity for a variety of voices to be heard, and an opportunity for us to reach out and say … that even though we are known at the university for having a very strong activist component, there’s still so much that continues to grow,” James said.

African American alumni, representatives of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum, and members of the Bentley Library will discuss the African American presence in Washtenaw County prior to 1970.

James, who will speak as part of the panel, said she is excited to bring together voices from various organizations to discuss ongoing projects focused on this topic.

“It really was a beautiful merging together of these different units,” James said. “The work we do, it’s not just theoretical. It’s like, how has the university impacted people’s lives and how have people impacted the university?”

Following the panel, there will be a reception with stations where people can discover further information and interact with the sponsors about their projects pertaining to the topic.

Topics of discussion will include the Bentley Library’s African American Student project, the African American Cultural and Historical Museum’s Oral History project, and the DAAS’ 50th Anniversary project.

The projects each work to compile stories and documents to create a comprehensive timeline of African American experiences at the university and in Washtenaw County throughout the past decades.

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