By Rebecca Lin '15
It’s very difficult to engage a large group of sleep-deprived teenagers, but Professor Rashauna Johnson did it flawlessly. On Friday, April 17, courtesy of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Upper School welcomed Professor Johnson, an assistant professor of history at Dartmouth College, for Nightingale’s annual Joan Stitt McMenamin Memorial Lecture. She discussed slavery in New Orleans and the misleading stereotype that slaves were simply chained to large plantations. The nature of urban bondage, she explained, was different than that of traditional plantations because slaves in New Orleans and other urban areas often experienced more mobility. Slaves were tasked to work in offices and deliver newspapers, jobs not typically associated with slaves.
Not only was the subject matter extremely engaging, but the speaker was as well. Professor Johnson turned a lecture into a riveting and interactive history class. At one point, Professor Johnson read an ad for a runaway slave. Then turning towards the audience, she asked for our opinions. Students and faculty commented on everything from the meaning of the word “lurking” to the lack of useful description of the runaway slave. Nightingale students were challenged to think beyond their preconceived notions of slavery and to ponder the possible ramifications this new definition of “slavery” might have for their futures.
Following the lecture, Professor Johnson continued the discussion with a smaller group in the student center.