Bacow noted that he has received hundreds of responses to the report since its release. Most were positive, but the negative posts only reinforced the importance of the effort, he said. “I hope that those who come after us will look back and judge us as having been champions of truth — for standing up for the truth and acting on it,” Bacow said.
He also expressed his gratitude to Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University in Texas, who, as Brown’s president in 2003, launched an investigation into what turned out to be extensive historical ties to the ‘slavery. The effort has become a model for similar surveys at other colleges and universities.
Delivering the conference’s first keynote address, Simmons said Brown’s findings were released in a political environment less hostile to truth than that facing Harvard. But truth and reconciliation are important not only for the descendants of slaves but also for the future of the nation, she said, citing the warning contained in the story of the “forgetting rituals” of post-civil war. Those who justified these rituals, saying they were necessary for healing, helped bury the “massive, massive moral evil” of slavery, Simmons said.
“The legacy of false or incomplete stories has left us with a strong sense of betrayal,” she said. “Restoring the painfully missing elements of these stories is, I believe, a necessary and heroic act that upholds the standards of truth, fairness and, frankly, moral behavior.”
National unity is being “reshaped and redefined” today by businesses, nonprofits, newly diverse communities and others, according to Simmons. The extent and success of these efforts will depend on historical investigations like those undertaken by Brown, Harvard and other institutions, she said.
“In that sense, the history of slavery in the United States is still being written,” Simmons said.
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