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About the Institute / Our Work / Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery

Welcome, and a Call to Action

Portrait of Tomiko Brown-Nagin
Tomiko Brown-Nagin by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

By Tomiko Brown-Nagin
Chair of the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery and Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study 

Welcome to the Presidential Initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, a University-wide effort anchored at Harvard Radcliffe Institute and guided by a committee of faculty members drawn from every Harvard school.

In the winter of 2020, Harvard President Larry Bacow committed our University to examining Harvard’s significant connections to slavery and its legacies through research, engagement, and programming, and he charged our newly formed faculty committee with issuing a public report on our findings and recommendations for further action. The initiative is still in its early stages, and there is a long and challenging road ahead, but this work is critically important. We cannot dismantle what we do not understand, and we cannot understand the contemporary injustice we face unless we reckon honestly with our history.  

Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a unique and difficult historical moment, one that has laid bare centuries of systemic racism, profound injustice, and chronic inaction. My own hope for a more just country—one that lives up to its promise of freedom and equality, regardless of race—rests on our capacity as individuals and as a society to engage thoughtfully and fearlessly with the questions confronting our nation. This means examining our past as well as our present.

This is the task before us.

Here at Radcliffe and across Harvard, as we investigate, document, and openly discuss the University’s connections to slavery, we must also engage our community in the work of understanding and remedying the legacies of slavery that continue to shadow our society. I call on you to join us in pursuing this vital work.

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