Crafting Democratic Futures: Spelman College

Written by Cynthia Spence, associate professor of sociology at Spelman College, Director of the Social Justice Program, and the principal investigator for the Spelman College Crafting Democratic Futures Team

Project Description

The Spelman College Just Futures Project will be housed in the Social Justice Program directed by Dr. Cynthia Neal Spence, Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology and Director of the UNCF/Mellon Programs.  We hope to use this opportunity to create a formal platform for the study of the historical and contemporary impact and imprint of the period of enslavement and land dispossession in the state of Georgia, with particular emphasis on the Port Wentworth-Savannah area. It is our hope that community engagements, in-depth study, analysis and interrogation of scholarship, oral history collection, and curation will yield a body of knowledge that will inform public-facing strategies for reparations. The Reparations Project is focused on three areas: education for African Americans; legal land redress; and the amplification of descendant voices.  Support for student scholars is deemed an act of reparations.  

The Just Futures Grant will specifically aid in amplifying the work of the Quarterman-Keller Scholars Program, and will support training for select groups of social justice faculty and student members. Quarterman-Keller scholars, (5 Spelman- 3-Clark Atlanta University and 3-Morehouse) guided by faculty mentors, will engage in intensive reading of historical and contemporary texts built on anti-racist frameworks, will engage the work of distinguished scholars and practitioners who are national and international thought leaders, and will work with community organizations focused on racial healing across intergenerational racial and ethnic groups to learn and develop “best practices” in creating a platform for social change.

The term reparations is defined in various ways. How do you define community-based reparations? Over the next three years, what strategies are you implementing to accomplish this?

Over the next few years, the Spelman project will support community conversations with residents of the Savannah- Port Wentworth area and selected communities in metropolitan Atlanta to assess areas in need of reparations broadly defined to include  land redress, restoration and reclamation.  We seek to assist community members in tracing family histories and to create advocacy plans when there is evidence of misappropriation of land ownership and or the need for restorative actions. We have already begun collecting oral histories of members of the Quarterman and Keller families and will invite members of the community to participate in the oral history component of the project. We also seek to connect with others engaged in reparations initiatives in selected metro Atlanta communities and the Savannah–Port Wentworth area.

Different teams comprise of different types of colleagues and partners (e.g., historians, artists, community leaders). Can you describe the composition of the Spelman Team? Moreover, who are the community partners engaged in this work?

Our team includes myself, associate professor of sociology and Director of the Social Justice Program,  a political scientist, Kathy Powers (University of New Mexico) focusing on global reparations, an assistant professor of theater and drama, a community fellow, Randy Quarterman, a graduate student in African American studies and community partner, and Sarah Eisner, founder and executive director of The  Reparations Project. We will also engage scholars in the areas of environmental justice and theater and drama to create opportunities to reveal and creatively tell stories about the varied ways land dispossession and restoration impacts disenfranchised groups.It is an ever expanding  team to include eleven(11) undergraduates representing the Quarterman-Keller Scholars: five (5) Spelman students, three (3) Morehouse students and three (3) Clark Atlanta students. The student scholars are being trained in oral history methodologies and being exposed to research and scholarship focusing on reparations.

What factors are important to know about your local history to better understand your project?

It is important to note that The Savannah–Port Wentworth area has a very rich history foregrounded by the history of the period of enslavement and the myriad ways people taken from their African homelands have attempted to retain their cultural traditions. There is much to learn as we explore Gullah Geechie epistemologies as we explore the ways these communities have adapted to the systemic racism that  has defined their day to day lived experiences. We seek to hear their stories and find ways to advocate on their behalf.

Is there anything else you would like to our partners across the country to know about Spelman’s Democratic Futures project?

In addition, there are many opportunities for engaging communities in the metropolitan Atlanta area as we examine selected communities made vulnerable because of either land dispossession or neglect. We will partner with environmental justice advocates as we focus on selected communities in the metropolitan Atlanta community.