MIT Historian to Discuss Book about Slavery at Oldest U.S. Colleges

Craig Wilder argues Slavery deeply embedded in Educational Culture
What: Craig S. Wilder, professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will discuss his new book, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. Published in 2013 by Bloomsbury, the book adopts the controversial position that this country’s oldest colleges and universities, along with church and state, were “the third pillar of a civilization based on bondage.” The lecture is free and open to the public.

When:  Tuesday, February 4 at 4 p.m.
Where: Rittenberg Lounge in Mather Hall on the Trinity campus, 300 Summit Street.
Background: Ebony & Ivy is a widely acclaimed and provocative book that examines the role of slavery at many of this country’s oldest and most respected colleges and universities. The jumping off point was a 2006 report by Brown University that revealed that school’s complex involvement in slavery, a report that got many academics thinking about and examining the uncomfortable truths about race, slavery and the American higher education system.

“Many of America’s revered colleges and universities – from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to Rutgers, Williams College and [the University of North Carolina] – were soaked in the sweat, the tears, and sometimes the blood of people of color…Slavery funded colleges, built campuses, and paid the wages of professors. Enslaved Americans waited on faculty and students, and academic leaders aggressively courted the support of slave owners and slave traders,” said a synopsis of Ebony & Ivy on Amazon.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Allegra Di Bonaventura said of the book, “MIT Professor Craig Steven Wilder puts to rest any claims that the ties between slavery and the academy were merely incidental or inadvertent. He inventories these associations, and exposes their connections, to show the academy standing ‘beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on bondage’.”

Di Bonaventura went on to say that Ebony & Ivy sets the standard. “It is Mr. Wilder's vast and often seemingly banal catalog of mercantile transactions, charitable bequests, and academic and administrative appointments—all links in the chain that joins universities to slavery—that lends the book its disturbing power.”

Wilder, whose scholarly expertise is in American urban, intellectual and cultural history, began his career as a community organizer in the South Bronx, where he currently presents curricular and professional development workshops for public school teachers in low-income areas of New York City.

He is a senior fellow at the Bard Prison Initiative, where he has served as a guest lecturer, commencement speaker, academic adviser and visiting professor. He has advised and appeared in numerous historical documentaries, including The Central Park Five; My Brooklyn; F.D.R.: A Presidency Revealed; and New York: A Documentary History.

In addition to Ebony & Ivy, Wilder is the author of In the Company of Black Men: The African American Culture in New York City; and A Covenant with Color: Race and Social Power in Brooklyn. In 2004, Columbia University awarded Wilder the University Medal of Excellence at its 250th anniversary commencement.

Wilder received his B.A. from Fordham University, and his master’s degree, his M.Phil. and his Ph.D. from Columbia.