History Project director explores Tulane’s racial past

Julia Goldman, Staff Writer

Marcia Walker-McWilliams was recently named director of Tulane University’s History Project, and will lead an effort to acknowledge the impact from slavery and segregation at the school from 1834 through the present. (Livetouch Studio)

Marcia Walker-McWilliams will lead the Tulane University History Project, a recent effort by the university to acknowledge its impact surrounding slavery and segregation from 1834 through the present. 

With a growing team of researchers, historians, archivists, community members, faculty and students, Walker-McWilliams said she hopes to organize and present the university’s origins to help others understand the historical founding of Tulane. 

“I really want to be able to tell a story that engages multiple perspectives and experiences, some of which are not necessarily included in the archives and the documentation and histories of the university,” Walker-McWilliams said. The goal is “a nuanced, complex and really sort of truthful and honest racial history in the university.” 

With a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Chicago and an undergraduate degree in social policy and African American studies from Northwestern University, Walker-McWilliams has published “Reverend Addie Wyatt: Faith and the Fight for Labor, Gender, and Racial Equality” and is co-author of upcoming book, “The New Civil Rights Movement Reader: Resistance, Resilience and Justice.” 

Comparing past projects she worked on, Walker-McWilliams explained that they all take into account long time periods, with lasting conflict and many actors all adding more depth to the stories. Walker-McWilliams’ interest in the project followed the same pattern, and she said she became interested in uncovering Tulane’s racial history. 

“This project was really interesting to me because it’s an institutional history,” Walker-McWilliams said. “Those are so important because you’re thinking about how a university works, but also how it builds community.”

Along with her range of historical knowledge, Walker-McWilliams will bring her experience as a university faculty member and staff member at similar organizations to build relationships with her staff and others affected by this work. 

Walker-McWilliams has previously served as a university faculty and staff member at similar organizations and has built existing relationships with her staff and others affected by this work. 

Tulane recently joined the Universities Studying Slavery, an association composed of over 90 universities working to understand their historical ties to slavery and racism. USS will be used as a helpful guiding resource for Tulane’s History Project. 

When asked about her decision to choose this line of work, Walker-McWilliams recounted a summer program she participated in at Brown University where she worked with their Slavery and Justice Program. The program involved working with historical societies and artifacts to gather information in order to understand the area’s roots of slavery and segregation. 

“It was that kind of underground experience as a student that was formative in terms of me deciding to go and get my Ph.D. in history,” Walker-McWilliams said. 

As someone who was inspired to become a historian through her educational experience, Walker-McWilliams aims to involve and inspire students through the History Project too. 

“I’m really excited to think about ways to engage students,” Walker-McWilliams said. “I think students are going to have a lot of knowledge to bring to this project. But I’m also hoping that this project will open up opportunities for students that maybe they hadn’t thought about.”

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