Historian Jelani Cobb To Keynote Annual Ray Warren Symposium
November 13, 2017
The 14th annual Ray Warren Symposium, titled Legacy: Race and Remembrance, explored how individual and collective histories are remembered and told, and the ways that race and ethnicity can shape those histories. This year’s gathering reflected on the past primarily as a way of imagining and building a more equitable future.
The symposium ran from November 8 to 10, and included several keynote speakers. At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 8, cultural practitioner Suluʻape Keone Nunes and multimedia artist Wendy Red Star discussed the ways they blend the past and present to sustain community memories and cultural traditions for the future.
On Thursday, November 9 at 7 p.m., Jelani Cobb, Columbia University journalism professor, historian, and staff writer for The New Yorker, discussed his work on race, politics, and culture in the United States.
This year’s symposium also broke new ground with a staged reading of Cottonwood in the Flood, a play by Rich Rubin that tells the story of an African American family as they deal with the aftermath of the catastrophic Vanport Flood of 1948. A team of Lewis & Clark students took listeners through the story of this catastrophic event, which destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of African Americans but remains an often overlooked part of Portland’s history. The reading was held in the Fir Acres Black Box Theatre at 2 p.m. on Saturday, November 4. This reading was presented in parallel with Watzek Library’s exhibit “Vanport: A Story Lived. A Story Told.”
Additionally, Lewis & Clark’s Special Collections displayed its materials related to Edward Curtis, the American photographer and ethnologist known for his images of Native American people. Photographs by Native American photographers contemporary to Curtis were displayed—for the first time—alongside his images. This exhibit, curated by Hector Brandt BA ’18, Drew Matlovsky BA ’18, Zoe Maughan BA ’18, and Sarah McDonagh BA ’18, explored the moral implications of Curtis’ work, examining ideas of opportunity, appropriation, and self-depiction.
The symposium also offered a platform for students, professors, and community leaders to share projects from many different fields of study. One panel, “Race Across Disciplinary Boundaries,” featured students in anthropology, English, Hispanic studies, and history presenting their original research. Another, titled “What It Means to Be a Pioneer: Reckoning With Our Institutional History,” commemorated Lewis & Clark’s sesquicentennial by exploring how knowledge of the school’s history can be used to create a more just and accountable future.
“Colleges and universities from coast to coast have been digging into their own histories to confront the racial politics of their institutions,” said Associate Professor of Humanities Kimberly Brodkin, the faculty director of the symposium. “These are important conversations to have, and I’m pleased that one will take place at the symposium this year.”
The symposium culminated with its annual Race Monologues, held on Friday, November 10 at 7 p.m. One of the most vital and emotional parts of the Ray Warren Symposium, the Race Monologues is a series of original narratives written and presented by students at Lewis & Clark. These personal stories of community solidarity, structural racism, and political engagement are an example of the equitable and inclusive storytelling the symposium explores, and offer participants and audience members alike a unique opportunity to communicate, listen, and connect.
The full schedule of symposium events can be found here. All events were free and open to the public.
This story was written by Emily Price ’18.