Message from the Chair

GWS has much to offer this fall! 

Our terrific graduate students have been organizing the first annual Kentucky Gender and Women’s Studies conference, scheduled for Saturday, September 16, 2017. Our own Susan Bordo will be joined by Patricia Hill Collins as keynote speakers. Already more than a hundred students from colleges around the tristate region have registered. Together with the Kentucky Women’s Writers Conference, our KYGWS starts the academic year off with a strong sense of feminist camaraderie and inspiring speakers.

We are also thrilled to announce the launching of our Sexuality Studies Certificate. The certificate encompasses scientific and medical fields as well as humanities and social sciences, and encourages the study of sexuality transhistorically and crossculturally. Although housed in our GWS department, the certificate is open to any University of Kentucky undergraduate and is taught by faculty from across disciplines and colleges.

Check out our What’s Up section for recent celebrations of faculty and students.

We are excited for a new semester, looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones!  With so much to discuss and learn, we will work together to consider the pressing issues of our time and put them in context.

I leave you with this wonderful historical analysis of the question of what to do with statuary memorializing slave-based society. It is an address by Dr. Anastasia Curwood, Associate Professor of History and Director of the African American and Africana Studies Program, delivered on the occasion of Emancipation Day in Kentucky. In light of the racist violence at the University of Virginia campus related to the efforts to remove a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, her words are especially worth consideration.

Carol Mason, Professor and Chair
Department of Gender and Women's Studies

Dr. Anastasia Curwood’s Remarks on History, Memory, and Historical Monuments

Happy Emancipation Day! I am speaking as a historian, a Kentuckian for 3 years, a great granddaughter of slaves born in 1850s Shelby and Owen Counties, and as an advocate for justice and setting the story straight about our shared histories.

I teach my students that history exists both in the past and in the present. There is what happened in the past, and the history we remember and use as a guide in the present.

What we know about the past:

Slavery existed in this state from before statehood to the 13th Amendment in December 1865. In 1860, about 20% of Kentuckians were enslaved (25% of Lexingtonians). Even though it was a slave state, Kentucky never seceded from the Union during the Civil War, but also waited until 1976 to ratify the 13th Amendment.

The area we know as Cheapside between Main and Short Streets was a large slave marketplace from the 1830s through Emancipation Day. People sold for figures as little as $300 to as much as $1600. In Kentucky, slave parents had more children than were needed for labor, and so slave traders sold many people farther south to areas of higher labor demand. This meant a high rate of separations for Kentucky slave families, very possibly even my own. It was also used for public hangings as late as 1926. In short, Cheapside was the site of both major economic activity and major trauma.

In 1885, twenty years after emancipation, Lexingtonians raised money to place a statue of John C. Breckinridge, a prominent Kentuckian who served as the Secretary of War for the Confederacy. Because KY was part of the Union, he was convicted for treason. But he became celebrated in the years after the war’s end. Ten thousand people attended the statue’s unveiling two years later. That statue stands to one side of what we now call the Old Fayette County Courthouse.

In 1911, close to fifty years after Emancipation, the Daughters of the Confederacy unveiled a statue of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan to a crowd of about the same size, at the same location. Morgan led a raid through his home state of Kentucky in 1862.

What does this have to do with the present?

History exists in the present in people’s memories, both as individuals and as communities. Right now, our community has no public acknowledgement of the quarter million of us who were enslaved one hundred and fifty years ago here.

At the same time, in a very public space, we have two monuments to heroes of the war that eventually emancipated those who were enslaved… but they are from the side that fought to keep them enslaved.

What does this mean for our community?

My historian colleagues have shown that Confederate symbols were created after the Civil War by Kentuckians who condoned human rights abuses of slavery and Jim Crow. Many were created in response to political change that has ended abuses, both in the years immediately after the war and during more recent struggles for justice and freedom by black Kentuckians.

In the present, in 2017, the dispute over whether Confederate symbols should stay is not a balanced one. It invokes the unfinished business of emancipation and civil rights. Those who think racism still exists and is a problem are more likely to want to see symbols of white supremacy taken down, or at least moved from public squares. Those who believe racism is gone think that the Confederate flag and statues are fine. “Heritage Not Hate” assumes that the heritage was not the violence and abuse that took place under the banner of the Confederacy. But historians have thoroughly discredited the idea that Civil War was not about slavery and its attendant violence and trauma for four million Americans and a quarter of a million Kentuckians.

I’d like to leave you with the thought that Cheapside, and the monuments that still stand a few blocks away, symbolize current life or death matters for many members of our community: personal safety and security, access to the necessities for thriving and life itself, and full citizenship in the Commonwealth and our nation. When we look through the lens of justice, we must admit to ourselves that our past of violence and human rights abuse is unfinished business. Which side of history should Lexington be on today?



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