Our University must further its recognition of the history of slavery


Ruben Tarajano

The University of Alabama owes the black community the human decency of a real apology.

Progress coming through the slow-moving wheel of Alabama’s bureaucracy cannot occur if we don’t start at the basics. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and the University needs its own intervention. UA’s extensive addiction to the exploitation of black bodies must be realized and accepted.

As members of the community at The University of Alabama, we walk on the graves of slaves every day, be it when you’re in your fraternity house, on the quad or even in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Many students of color realize this as a constant reality, and simultaneously, are well aware of the university’s deafening silence.

This silence leads us to ask, “Whose campus is this, anyways?” For Black students, the answer is clear.

Tour guides parade Civil War memorial sites – The Round House and the Civil War memorial on the quad — but conveniently disregard the history that made such sites possible. The lives wasted away to build the President’s Mansion; the sweat that dripped into the soil students study upon; the families who only knew what it was like to work under their master — this University.

At a campus which often aims to become the “Harvard of the South” or a “Southern Ivy”, it is necessary to take a look at some of the campuses the Capstone would like to mirror.

Campuses like Brown University have physical memorials at the hearts of their campuses recognizing their dark history in which slavery played a role. Even our fellow SEC campus, the University of Mississippi, has begun to carry out similar actions.

Now, there is some form of recognition of slavery on campus — two vaguely placed grave markers, placed in the shadows of a biology lecture hall. Out of sight, out of mind.

Saying that this isn’t enough is an understatement. A physical reminder of this poignant past exists feet away from where the University president resides — slave quarters, or “storage” as this institution prefers to refer to it. If someone forcibly entered my ancestor’s former home and used it as a storage unit, it would be akin to spitting in my face. In the same vein, UA is spitting in the face of its black students every day it fails to recognize the existence of its former slave quarters.

What a beautiful image it is to imagine what a museum or memorial within those walls would look like. If only Capstone Men and Women were detailing and honoring the lives who were made to provide labor without consent to make possible what UA is today.

In addition, The University of Alabama owes reparations. The Capstone stole from black folks something that could never be fully repaid. Locating the descendants of slaves owned by UA and its first professors is possible, and offering them scholarships and opportunities to excel can be the beginning of true healing and progress.

True healing and progress also means recognizing who this institution has chosen to honor by emblazoning their names onto buildings. This includes Morgan Hall, named after a KKK leader, and Nott Hall, named after a physician who contributed to the racist philosophy of eugenics that provided false scientific evidence that black folks were inferior. Regardless of how this recognition is carried out, whether through new plaques on these buildings or a complete renaming, doing so in some form should be non-negotiable.

This, in addition to truly and properly memorializing the slaves which were here are not recommendations or “initiatives,” but rather, moral obligations. UA cannot truly make progress on race with its foot tied to the dragging weight of ignoring its racist past.

It is time for this institution to push for serious reforms in how it reflects on its history, because black history at The University of Alabama didn’t just start with Autherine Lucy.

Ruben Tarajano is a sophomore majoring in public health. His column runs biweekly.