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Conference: Reclaiming Our Ancestors: Community Conversations About Racial Justice and Public History

October 19, 2017 @ 6:00 pm - October 21, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

Reclaiming Our Ancestors conference october 19 through 21


Acclaimed scholars and activists will discuss how to democratize our imaginative, intellectual, artistic, and public landscapes through the inclusion of diverse histories. The galvanizing center of our conversations will be an extraordinary group of descendants of prominent 18th- and 19th-century African American antislavery activists.  Partnering with humanities scholars, the descendants will promote public engagement with and production of African American history through multiple media, including genealogical research, memoir, films, television, statuary, visual arts, museums, museum exhibitions, community foundations, celebration days, quilts, and food.  In addition, activists, artists, and scholars from around the US and from the city of Buffalo will discuss their work in fields of racial justice, city planning, and community-building.

Aside from the Saturday evening of jazz, the conference is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. To register, CLICK HERE.

This conference is made possible by the generous co-sponsorship of the UB Gender Institute as part of Gender Week, the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, and the Departments of English, History, and Transnational Studies.

Conference Schedule

(subject to updates)

Thursday, October 19

Loction: Butler Mansion / UB Jacobs Executive Development Center, 672 Delaware Ave, Buffalo

6 p.m. | Opening Reception

7 p.m.  | Welcome: Kari Winter, Executive Director, UB Humanities Institute
Screening of Gina’s Journey: The Search for William Grimes followed by discussion with filmmakers Sean Durant and Regina Mason 
An award-winning documentary based on Regina Mason’s odyssey to reclaim the pioneering narrative of her ancestor, Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave (1825), the first memoir published by a fugitive slave in the United States.  Preview:

Friday, October 20

Loction: Greenhouse Room, The Lafayette Hotel, 391 Washington St., Buffalo

9:15 a.m. | Introductions: David Castillo, Director, UB Humanities Institute
                     Welcome: Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo

Session I: Routes of Cultural Memory                  

  • Moderator: Carrie Bramen, Director, UB Gender Institute; Assoc. Professor of English
  • Barbara McCaskill, Professor of English and Co-Director of the Civil Rights Digital Library at the University of Georgia, will provide the audience with insights about how to create history when “much of the early African American archive is partial or missing.” Encouraging researchers to approach “an incomplete archive as generative rather than thin,” Prof. McCaskill provides an inspiring model in her book, Love, Liberation, and Escaping Slavery: William and Ellen Craft in Cultural Memory.
  • Margaret (Peggy) Dammond Preacely, MPH, a descendant of William and Ellen Craft, will introduce her family’s routes to claiming historical memory and to antislavery and Civil Rights activism that goes back over one hundred and fifty years.
  • Respondent: Jennifer Desiderio, Associate Professor of English, Canisius College

10:30 a.m. | Coffee Break

10:45 a.m. | Session II: Transforming Personal and Family History into Books and Poems

  • Moderator: Rebekah Williams, Youth Education Director, MAP (Massachusetts Avenue Project)
  • Carla L. Peterson, Professor Emerita of English, University of Maryland, will respond to questions about genealogical research and will share insights based on her research for Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City (Yale UP, 2011), which recounts her quest to reconstruct the lives of her nineteenth-century ancestors and illuminates the history of African-American elites in New York City.
  • Charlotte-Ann Henay, a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Perspectives and Cultural Boundaries, at York University in Toronto, will offer reflections on the intersection of public history and Black “experimental” writing, through rememory and witness.
  • Annette Daniels Taylor, a multi-media artist and MFA student in the UB Department of Media Study, will reflect on poetic performance and screen her short film, “Rose Dies Friday.” Rose Butler, an enslaved teenager born in 1799 in New York City, was the last person hung for arson in New York City and New York State.

12:00 p.m. | Lunch and Conversation, “Food as Source of Cultural Memory” with Sharon Leslie Morgan, Susi Ryan, and Nadia Shahram

1:00 p.m. | Session III: Starting from Scratch

  • Moderator: William L. Andrews, E. Maynard Adams Professor of English, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Kari J. Winter, Executive Director of UB Humanities Institute, Professor of American Studies, “My Transatlantic Search for Jeffrey Brace and Why His Story Matters.” A discussion of how to overcome problems posed by biases in historical archives—who appears, who is disappeared—based on a ten-year search for archival information about Jeffrey Brace’s 1810 memoir of slavery, The Blind African Slave.
  • Rhonda E. Brace will share how her life and the lives of her family and community in Springfield, Massachusetts were transformed by reading the memoir of their ancestor Jeffrey Brace. She will describe innovative ways in which family and community members have created Brace memorials.
  • Judy Scales-Trent, Professor Emerita, UB School of Law, “I Started in the Basement.” Prof. Scales-Trent will describe how she, a non-historian, figured out how to write the biography of her grandfather, A Black Man’s Journey from Sharecropper to College President: The Life and Work of William Johnson Trent, 1873-1963.

2:15 p.m. | Coffee Break

2:30 p.m. | Session IV: Building Museums and Creating Memorials

  • Moderator: Kelly Hayes-McAlonie, FAIA, LEED AP, Director of Capital Planning, UB
  • Lynne M. Jackson will share ideas about how to create public history monuments and to create interracial dialogues based on her years of experience as founder and president of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation in Missouri.
  • Carver Clark Gayton will share advice about how to build museums and museum exhibits of African American culture, based on his experiences as the Founding Executive Director of the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle. He also will highlight some research strategies based on research into the life of his great grandfather, Lewis G. Clarke, an escaped slave and leader within America’s anti-slavery movement.
  • Niya Bates, Public Historian of African American Life and Slavery, Monticello will describe the interracial history of Monticello and invite audience discussion about the meanings of democracy and the public good.
  • Respondent: Cheng Yang “Bryan” Lee, Curator, El Museo Francisco Oller y Diego Rivera

Saturday, October 21

Location: The Tewksbury Lodge, 249 Ohio Street, Buffalo

9:00 a.m. | Coffee

9:15 a.m. | Welcome: Teresa A. Miller, UB Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence and Professor of Law
Session I: University-Community Partnerships

  • Regina E. Mason and William L. Andrews will discuss their collaboration in co-editing the 2008 Oxford University Press edition of Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave (1825). Regina, a California-born descendant of William Grimes, uncovered a wealth of material about her ancestor far in excess of what any academic scholar had been able to locate. Bill, who descended from slaveholders in Virginia, is one of the most influential and prolific critics of African American literature in the world today.
  • Sam Magavern, Executive Director, Partnership for the Public Good, “Amplifying Community Voices in the Making of Public Policy.” Attorney, professor, writer, radio host, and director of a community-based think tank, Sam Magavern will talk about how students and faculty can help community groups win public policy victories for equity and inclusion.
  • Jen Mecozzi, Logistics Coordinator, PUSH Buffalo (People Organizing for Sustainable Housing)
  • Respondent: Elizabeth Walsh, Visiting Asst. Professor, UB Dept. of Urban and Regional Planning

10:45 a.m. | Coffee break

11:00 a.m. | Session II: The Difficult Journey of Justice

  • Tom DeWolf and Sharon Leslie Morgan
    Co-authors of Gather at the Table (Beacon Press, 2012), Tom DeWolf, a descendant of a slave-trading family, and Sharon Leslie Morgan, a descendant of slaves, will describe the difficulties and rewards of interracial dialogue.
  • Julie Buckner Armstrong, Professor of English, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, author of Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching, will share some reflections about visiting Birmingham’s civil rights memorial complex with her aunt, who served on the 1977 jury that prosecuted Robert Chambliss for the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four girls. This month is the 40th anniversary of the trial.

12:15 p.m. | Lunch and Conversation

1:00 p.m. | Session III: Muslims in America, Past and Present

  • Moderator: Dayatra Hassan, Ujima Company, Buffalo
  • Sylviane A. Diouf Director, Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library
  • Nadia Shahram, Esq., Founder and President of the Coalition for the Advancement of Moslem Women, WNY
  • Gamileh Jamil, Executive Director, ACCESS of WNY (Arab American Community Center for Economic Social Services of Western New York)

2:15 p.m. | Coffee Break

2:30 p.m. | Session IV: Filmmaking and Social Justice

  • Moderator: Lukia Costello, Outreach Coordinator, Buffalo International Film Festival
    A group of filmmakers have teamed up to create A Peculiar Freedom, a 10-part television series documenting the stories of people of color in New England from 1785 to 1885. Each filmmaker comes to the table with a history of activist filmmaking in the fight for social justice.
  • André Robert Lee is a director and producer whose credits include The Prep School Negro & I’m Not Racist…Am I? He is currently directing a documentary feature about incarcerated youth in Richmond who use their personal art creations to fight recidivism. André also directed a film for the Election Effects Project that will air on Spike TV this fall.
  • Rob Koier is an award-winning director. The North Star, a short inspired by the memoirs of fugitive slaves from the 1800s, was an official selection of the PBS Online Film Festival. Strength of the Storm, about the plight of a mobile home community following the wrath of Hurricane Irene in 2011, was distributed internationally by Press TV. He is currently in the pitching phase on a fictional TV drama about global flooding and climate change, called The Underneath.
  • Nora Jacobson is an award-winning filmmaker of documentaries and narrative films whose work has screened at Sundance and the New York Film Festival. She is currently in post-production on a short film about anti-Muslim bigotry, a documentary about poet Ruth Stone, and is distributing The Hanji Box, a narrative film about intercultural adoption.
  • Respondent: Sean Durant, Producer & Director, Your Media II, Los Angeles & San Francisco

4:00 p.m. | Session V: Sisters in Stitches: Weaving Justice

  • Moderator: Gail V. Wells, Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor
  • Susi Ryan, President of Sisters in Stitches, New England’s only African American quilting guild While her ancestor, Venture Smith, narrated one of the first extant slave memoirs (1798), Susi’s work in African American quilting is a quest to make people more aware of the significance of quilts made by slaves and their descendants as vital pieces of history too.  Presenting a historical timeline with Story Quilts moving from Africa the Motherland up to Black Lives Matter and incorporating excerpts from many of the slave narratives written by the Ancestors of those attending the conference, Susi will explain how the quilts reference food, textiles, music, and customs. The quilt, “Dearly Beloved, We Are Our Own Record Keepers,” will be on display.  It is a tribute to 32 people of color aged 7 to 102 across the USA who were killed by state-sanctioned violence, on which Susi collaborated with Prof. Vivian Saleh-Hanna of UMASS Dartmouth and Prof. Julia Jordan-Zachary of Providence College, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Rahwa Ghirmatzion, Deputy Director of PUSH Buffalo, “Weaving Justice.”
  • Respondent: Cassandra Scherr, PhD Student, UB English Department

6:30 p.m. | Evening of Jazz with Dinner ($30 cash or check, at the door)

Location: Colored Musicians Club, 145 Broadway, Buffalo, NY 14203

  • Tour of museum
  • Catered dinner and cash bar








October 19, 2017 @ 6:00 pm
October 21, 2017 @ 9:00 pm


See detailed schedule


Humanities Institute