The Chronicle of Higher Education
January 6th, 2015
On August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo., a white police officer shot an
unarmed young black man dead. To understand what happened that day, you
need more than details about what went down between the officer, Darren
Wilson, and the victim, Michael Brown. You need history.
That was the message powerfully brought home by scholars on a panel
held here on Monday at the annual meeting of the American Historical
Association. The panel, "Understanding Ferguson: Race, Power, Protest,
and the Past," brought together historians who have studied and taught
and written publicly about race and racism in the United States.
Panel members came at the subject from a multitude of angles:
demographics, the history of policing and mass incarceration, cultural
scripts that criminalize African-Americans, myths of racial progress,
and how to bring current events into the classroom.
Events like Mr. Brown’s killing in Ferguson, the death three weeks
earlier of Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., after a police officer
put him in a chokehold, and the subsequent protests that have taken
place across the country make it clear that people inside and outside
academe wrestle with history every day, whether they know it or not.