Sylviane Greensword knows the history of slavery is tied closely to the history of Native Americans — and tries to be intentional about incorporating the connection in her work.
Greensword is a member of the Race and Reconciliation Initiative at Texas Christian University, and in studying the school’s ties to slavery and the Confederacy, she also learned how Native Americans were impacted.
Members of the Native American and Indigenous Peoples Initiative were honored with a Plume Award by the Race and Reconciliation Initiative in March for its work in modeling ways to support, respect and incorporate Native Americans on campus.
The committee plans to expand from research about African Americans to also include Indigenous and Latino people, Amiso George, chair of the Race and Reconciliation initiative, said.
“We hope to provide a complete picture of all the shades of purple that contributed and still contribute to making TCU what it is today,” George said.
In fall 2022, the latest data available from TCU, only 0.2% of students were American Indian/Alaskan Native. The Native population at TCU has declined in recent years.
The Race and Reconciliation Initiative presented the award at its annual Reconciliation Day, which is also where the committee presents its latest findings.
The ceremony included members of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, whose ancestral homeland is where TCU’s campus is located.
What is the Race and Reconciliation Initiative?
The Race and Reconciliation Initiative launched in August 2020 at TCU and tasked members with seeking and telling the truth about the university’s ties to slavery and the Confederacy, Karen Steele, English professor and founding member, said.
Part of what urged the university to start the initiative were protests from students and the country over the death of George Floyd, Steele said.
“One of the first things that the Race and Reconciliation Initiative really had to figure out is, what is our institutional relationship to slavery? Do any of our founders have a relationship to the enslaved? Were they slaveholders?” Steele said. “Even though we were founded in 1873, post emancipation, we suspected there might be stories that we needed to uncover.”
They found stories they thought needed telling.
Greensword, a postdoctoral fellow, said through the research the initiative found ties to the Confederacy among the family that founded the school.
Addison and Randolph Clark, the founders of the school, both joined the Confederacy and their father Joseph was an owner of enslaved people, Greensword said.
From their research, the initiative makes recommendations to the TCU’s board of regents and finds ways to follow up on the research. One example Steele provided was an audit on all the statues and buildings named after people on the campus.
“Unsurprisingly, it’s a bunch of white men,” Steele said. “However, there are a few variations, but really not many. The person who’s the namesake who’s the benefactor of our library is a white woman, but it’s mostly white men.”
The athletic department was inspired by the work of the committee, Steele said, and the department built a statue honoring James Cash, the first Black student athlete at TCU and first Black basketball player in the Southwest Conference.
The Race and Reconciliation Initiative also encouraged administration to look at who the campus conducts business with and try to diversify it by working with businesses owned by Black or Indigenous people of color.
But the initiative also tries to find healing. In her research, Greensword said she was able to find enslaved people who worked on the campus and their descendants. TCU brought the descendants to the school last year.
“It was quite an occasion to remember bringing them on campus, telling them about the history of their ancestors, having them set foot on a campus where just a few decades ago, they wouldn’t even be legally able to study here or even to set foot here unless they were members of the janitorial crew or the cafeteria crew,” Greensword said. “We were able to tell them about the history of TCU and actually generated an interest for some of them to attend TCU.”
Hopes for the future
George hopes the campus community will learn the complete history of TCU — warts and all.
“We would like to see this learning done formally, incorporated into courses, and informally, through ongoing presentations and campus tours that show the many ways our campus is welcoming to all,” she said. “By holding the mirror to our history, we hope other institutions can learn from what we have done and look ahead on how to make their institution a place where all are welcomed and celebrated.”
She knows that change will not happen overnight but believes the campus has come a long way since even the first year of the initiative.
“First is the acknowledgement of the past, then comes intentional decisions on how to parlay the lessons into something positive,” she said. “We already see those changes on our campus, and we expect to see more as time progresses.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.