Lecture series to explore past, present and future of African Americans in Virginia, U.S.

The speaker series coincides with Virginia’s commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans.

As Virginia marks the 400th anniversary of the first recorded arrival of Africans in English North America, the Humanities Research Center at Virginia Commonwealth University is hosting a speaker series that will explore the past, present and future of Africans and African Americans in Virginia and the United States.

The speaker series is being organized in partnership with American Evolution, an initiative funded by the commonwealth of Virginia to commemorate the events of 1619, which include the establishment of the first representative legislative assembly in the New World, the first English Thanksgiving in North America and the arrival of “20 and odd” Africans to Point Comfort, Virginia.

The series, “Virginia’s Past, Present and Future,” launched in the spring and continues this fall. It aims to encourage informed conversation about the events of 1619 and the subsequent experience of Africans and African Americans in Virginia and later in the United States, the continued impact of that history, and the possibilities for a future in which we can build a just and inclusive multiracial society.

Each lecture will be free and open to the public. They include:

Elizabeth Pryor
Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, Ph.D.

“The N-word: History, Race and the College Classroom”

Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, Ph.D., associate professor of history at Smith College

4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11

James Branch Cabell Library Lecture Hall, 901 Park Ave.

Description: The n-word, a word prevalent in both racist and anti-racist documents, art, literature and politics, is wreaking havoc across U.S. classrooms. With personal, pedagogical and historical perspective — framed in part by her experience as a biracial woman who is also the daughter of iconic comedian Richard Pryor — Pryor reflects on why the n-word is so hard to talk about.


Christina Sharpe
Christina Sharpe, Ph.D.

“Wake. Seed. Soil.”

Christina Sharpe, Ph.D., professor of humanities at York University and distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University

6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24

Richmond Salons I-II, University Student Commons, 907 Floyd Ave.

Description: In her talk, Sharpe will think about wakes, about plantations and memorials, about soil, seeds and ash. In order to do this, Sharpe will turn to, among other things: the Whitney Plantation in Edgard, Louisiana, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum: From Slavery to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, Alabama.


Alok Vaid-Menon
Alok Vaid-Menon

“Femme in Public”

Alok Vaid-Menon, a gender nonconforming performance artist, writer and educator

4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4

James Branch Cabell Library Lecture Hall, 901 Park Ave.

Description: What feminine part of yourself did you have to destroy in order to survive in this world? At what point does femininity become synonymous with apology? Who hurt the people who hurt you? Vaid-Menon is trying to figure it out. Join them for an evening of poetry, stand-up comedy, drag and more as they take their audience on an emotional roller coaster all the way from the personal to the political. Vaid-Menon 's work has been featured by HBO, CNN, BBC, NBC, The New York Times, The Guardian and more.

The Humanities Research Center, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences, provides a forum for intellectual exchange across and beyond the humanities at VCU, traversing conventional disciplinary boundaries and encouraging collaboration throughout the college, as well as across the university and the local community.

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