Message from Associate Director Denise Herd

head shot of denise herd

Denise Herd

Associate Director

By Denise Herd
Oct. 31, 2019

The year 2019 is a momentous one in American history. Four hundred years ago marks the forced arrival of enslaved African people to the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia. In January of 2018, the “400 Years of African American History Commission Act” was signed which mandated a national commission to commemorate this anniversary. The Act’s goals included a mandate to develop programs to “acknowledge the impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination had on the United States; encourage civic, patriotic, historical, educational, artistic, religious, and economic organizations to organize and participate in anniversary activities...and coordinate for the public scholarly research on the arrival of Africans in the United States and their contributions to this country.” 

The importance of this initiative in the US is underscored by the global recognition of the importance of the legacy of slavery for enduring and present-day racial injustice.  In acknowledgment of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition, the Director-General of UNESCO stated that: “Slavery is the product of a racist worldview, which perverts all aspects of human activity. Established as a system of thought, illustrated in all manner of philosophical and artistic works, this outlook has been the basis for political, economic, and social practices of a global scope and with global consequences. It persists today in speeches and acts of violence which are anything but isolated and which are directly linked to this intellectual and  political history.”

To acknowledge this important anniversary, the Haas Institute has played a leading role in a campus-wide collaborative at UC Berkeley made up of a diverse group of staff and scholars. This group designed and developed a year-long series of events regarding slavery and its impact in the society. Our commemoration was kicked off on August 30 with a day-long symposium where we brought scholars and advocates from around the country to discuss such issues as dispossession, the afterlife or legacy of slavery, post-reconstruction in today’s society, and the continuous struggles for freedom and justice waged by African Americans. 

Future programs include additional talks by campus and invited speakers, films, and artistic performances that will be featured throughout the 2019-2020 academic year and are listed on a special website created for the commemoration—visit 400years.berkeley.edu for details of this historic, yearlong program dedicated to the promotion of justice, healing, and liberation from the history of slavery and oppression.  We are pleased to have had a strong role in shaping this historic year.