Outside of the Greater Boston area or gateways cities, such as Springfield or Pittsfield, few may expect to find large numbers of black people in Massachusetts. It’s surprising, then, to hear that Florence, Mass., a village tucked in the northwest corner of the city of Northampton, had 10 percent black residents in 1850, higher than major hubs like New Bedford and Boston.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20, in light of Black History Month and in partnership with the David Ruggles Center for History and Education, the Malcolm X Cultural Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst hosted a two-part event on the impact of slavery in the Pioneer Valley.
Ruggles Center director Steve Scrimer was invited to speak at the MXCC, presenting the history of African Americans that arrived to Florence in the middle 19th century via the Underground Railroad, and quickly made the mill town their home and site of radical organizing.
The Class EDUC 392B: Racism Global Context is a class discussion about racial issues and how to confront them on predominantly white institutions (PWIs). Led by facilitators from CMASS (Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success), students came together to discuss their own encounters with racial issues on campus and how to address them in a productive way. We asked them about their experience over the weekend, what they learned and what they would like to share.
“Silence is violence, and it’s important to break the silence. Because there’s` so much institutional silence around issues of race and racism and the intersectionality of race and racism. And when we engage in discussion we’re like starting the work of deconstructing the institutional silence and violence that’s imposed on people of color but also that affects other people as well at predominantly white institutions.”
“Coming to this class and having an open discussion about people’s experiences with racism at umass was so eye opening. Because I know a lot of my friends think that racism doesn’t really occur on this campus, and it was astounding to see so many first perspectives about racism on campus and their own actual experiences.”
Computer Science major
“Something I learned over the weekend is that everyone feels the same as I did about racial issues — they had their own issues with race too. And so I’m not the only one who feels this kind of pressure about race.”
“I had the intention to learn more about different people’s perspectives because I am a leader on this campus fighting very hard for diversity and I felt that this course would, in a way teach me more about others people’s perspectives so that i can incorporate it in my work and improve.
“It’s important to have these kinds of group discussions because we can all just in a way share our pain so that we can learn to better empathize with each one another and have a greater understanding as to what’s happening in not only our lives but other people’s lives.”