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Texas Christian University digs into its past with initiative studying slavery and racism

 TCU professor Dr. Frederick W. Gooding, Jr. and students reflect during a stop on TCU's "Heritage Trail."
TCU professor Dr. Frederick W. Gooding, Jr. and students reflect during a stop on TCU's "Heritage Trail."

TCU professor Dr. Frederick W. Gooding, Jr. understands that history can be complicated, especially when it comes to the history of a college campus.

“History means so many different things to so many different people. We're talking about staff, students, alumni and faculty, who all have a different perspective as to what happened and what part of the story we tell,” Gooding said.

For the last year and a half, Gooding has served as the inaugural chair of TCU’s Race and Reconciliation Initiative, a five-year research project that is studying the university’s relationship to slavery, racism and the Confederacy.

The research effort is part of an international movement of Universities Studying Slavery, a consortium of over 60 universities researching the role of racism and slavery within their institutional histories.

In their first year, the TCU initiative published a preliminary report detailing three periods of the school’s history: the founding years from 1861 – 1891, the middle period, documenting TCU’s transition to integration between 1941-1971, and modern period, which documents the university’s most recent history.

In the remaining years of the project, the initiative will pursue more in-depth research into each defined period of campus history.

 Members of TCU's Race and Reconciliation
Courtesy of TCU
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Members of TCU's Race and Reconciliation

“My whole philosophy has been: let's not erase the past, but embrace the past,” Gooding sa id.

Yet understanding and presenting TCU’s past has been a complicated process. Unlike many schools on the East Coast who are part of the consortium, TCU was founded after the Civil War, and its relationship with the Confederacy and slavery is less straight forward.

“What is unique to us is that we do not have enslaved labor documented that helped build the university,” Gooding explain ed.

The university was founded in 1873 by brothers Addison and Randolph Clark, eight years after June teen th when General Granger conveyed news of the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all remaining enslaved people in Texas.

According to Gooding however, that doesn’t mean that the university avoided the legacy of slavery or the Civil War. For example, TCU’s founders Addison and Randolph Clark both had ties to the Confederate cause, with Addison Clark serving as a lieutenant in the Confederate army.

Their involvement in the Confederacy led some to describe a campus statue depicting the TCU founders as a “Confederate statue” and called on the administration to remove it.

Yet through their initial research, the Race and Reconciliation Initiative found a more nuanced story.

“The statue was put up in 1993. It was put up to honor the founders,” explained Gooding, “and so while [the initiative] did say that this is not a Confederate statue, we were able to acknowledge the truth that it is indeed a statue of people with Confederate ties.”

In addition to researching the university’s past, TCU’s Race and Reconciliation Initiative is working to educate the campus community on what the y' re learning with the goal of promoting healing and reconciliation.

Last week, the group sponsored a series of campus events, including a panel, a lecture and a public tour of campus highlighting TCU's lesser-known history.

The campus H eritage T rail tour include s a Native land acknowledgement, local histories of the civil rights movement, and the history of integration at TCU.

At the root of it, we're exploring the many shades of purple. We're exploring a lot of things that are hidden in plain sight,” said Marcellis Perkins, a PhD student and TCU’s Race and Reconciliation Initiative Graduate Research Assistant.

Perkins, who helped organize the events, said efforts like these are an important step forward for the university.

“Students are frustrated with the talk. Until an institution is able to reckon with its past, its present will always be imprisoned to the things that have happened before,” Perkins said.

According to Dr. Frederick W. Gooding, Jr. the goal of the initiative is to be honest about the school's past in order to build a stronger future.

“Reconciliation is more powerful, more important than victory,” Gooding said. “It's not a matter of winning or losing, or who's right or wrong, but the question is: how do we navigate together moving forward?”

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.