The Collegian
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

President Ayers to give talk on Emancipation Proclamation

On Sept. 17, University of Richmond President Edward Ayers will lead a nationally broadcasted program to restore a sense of drama and importance to the Emancipation Proclamation, an event that Americans take for granted, he said.

"There's no national holiday for Emancipation, and it's gotten a little bit buried," Ayers said. "People don't know exactly how it was that slavery came to an end. What we're going to do is really recreate the scene of September 1862."

The discussion will explore the perspectives of different groups within the U.S. population, including freed slaves and President Lincoln, said Courtney Chapin, the White House liaison for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

The program will include historians from the American Civil War Center, Duke University, Columbia University and the University of Virginia.

The event will be held at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington D.C., but it will be streamed and viewed at more than 60 watch parties across the nation. Richmond's Center for Civic Engagement will show the program at 1:30 p.m. in the Tyler Haynes Commons in room 305.

The event is sponsored by The History Channel, the Smithsonian and the NEH, a federally funded agency devoted to giving grants to promote and preserve the humanities.

Ayers became involved with the NEH when he served on the National Council on the Humanities from 2000 to 2004. He then testified on behalf of the NEH before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations to renew their federal funding. He was chosen to speak on behalf of the NEH because he is a compelling and dynamic public speaker, Chapin said.

The idea for this event came directly from Ayers, Chapin said. After his testimonial, he reminded her of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and suggested they plan an event.

The NEH chose to hold the event on Constitution Day, a day when all federally funded educational institutions are required to study the U.S. Constitution. Congress established this observance in 2004. The Emancipation Proclamation program will provide schools with a discussion related to the Constitution, Chapin said.

The program also includes a contest for students older than 18 to submit original works based on primary documents found in NEH-funded digital projects, including "Visualizing Emancipation," which was a project built at the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond.

"The idea is to get young students to look at primary documents and think about the people involved," Chapin said.

The contest winners will receive cash prizes, a two-night trip to Washington, D.C., and a guided tour of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, Chapin said. More information about the contest can be found at: emancipation.neh.gov.

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Ayers said the benefit in participating in the contest was to gain a deeper understanding of emancipation than they would in any other way.

"I think all people in the world need to understand this; world history turned on the events that happened here around us," Ayers said. "No matter where you're from, if you're one of the [students] from 70 different countries, in the course of world history, Richmond matters."

Contact Collegian reporter Chrissy Wengloski at chrissy.wengloski@richmond.edu

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