Lately my world seems full of amazing coincidences and ties between the present and the past. Take this one, for example. In this morning’s email I received an announcement of an important conference:
Abolition, Past and Present: Scholars, Activists, and the Challenge of
Gilder Lehrman Center's 14th Annual International Conference
November 8-10, 2012
Luce Hall Auditorium, 34 Hillhouse Avenue
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
“In order to put past and present in lasting dialogue, this conference
combines some of the world's most distinguished historians of slavery
and abolition with many of the most important activist-leaders in the
current movement to counteract and abolish modern forms of slavery. The
gathering will be one effort toward forging a field of study about the
origins and nature of current human trafficking and bonded labor systems
in the world.
By use of rich historical analogies, comparative perspectives,
international contexts, and real world examples of intervention, we will
explore and use the past in order to see deeper into the challenges
faced by governments, non-governmental organizations, scholars, writers,
and concerned citizens.
We further hope to place the complex problem of contemporary slavery
within the history of modern ideas and regimes of human rights. This is
a conference where the worlds of scholarship will connect with local and
international activism - as eighteenth and nineteenth century
abolitionists attempted in their own time - to curtail and fight this
ancient, and very current, problem of human exploitation.”
My first reaction was “Oh, I wish I could be there! What they’re doing has major connections to my upcoming book, The Road to Frogmore: Turning Slaves into Citizens.
Then I looked at the date again, and realized what I would be doing at that very moment. November 8-10 is the weekend of the “Heritage Days “ Celebration at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, South Carolina. The Penn Center seeks to preserve the cultural heritage of the Gullah people, who were enslaved on St. Helena until 1862 and the coming of Abolition. And I will be there as part of the celebration, to talk about my new book, The Road to Frogmore: Turning Slaves into Citizens – the story of Abolitionist Laura M. Towne and the founding of the Penn School on that very site.
Still, I am excited and pleased that these ideas about human freedom are getting renewed interest. Surely the fact that these kinds of meetings are going on in places as far removed as Connecticut and South Carolina is a good sign.