Wilder’s Ebony and Ivy brought up many important points about the history of race in America and the legacy of race and slavery in institutions of higher education. Even more broadly, I thought Wilder did a good job of showing that the history of slavery isn’t tangential to American history as a whole, but an integral part of story.
One of the parts of Wilder’s book that stuck out to me was his discussion of the Philipse family, which detailed the economic and social impact of the slave trade in Colonial America. I was very familiar with this particular story because as a child I volunteered at Philipsburg Manor, the Philpse’s plantation in the Hudson Valley. I’ve never really thought that much about that experience, but it was my first introduction to public history and a place is that is trying to grapple with its legacy of slavery and violence. While I was there the site hired a new staff member to who was trying to change the main focus away from tenant farmers to slaves, although still acknowledging the role of both. Before this change, the site had mainly focused on tenant farmers, with an extreme bias toward the history of lower class white people (and about 90% of the staff and volunteers were white). I don’t think the site has flawless presentation, but I searched a little on their website and they’ve clearly worked to highlight slavery as a primary part of their history: “At Philipsburg Manor, the story presented touches on three important subjects: slavery, commerce, and cultural diversity — concepts as relevant today as in the eighteenth century.” — Philipsburg Manor website, http://www.hudsonvalley.org/education/philipsburg-manor/telling-story
I haven’t been back in 10 years, but it seems like they are trying to bring the legacies of slavery into the present. Although institutions like Philipsburg are different from the colleges and universities whose legacies Wilder describes, it’s interesting to see how the site is trying to present slavery as a contemporary subject, and not relegated it the past.