Race and the American Story

Focusing on the case study of African American history as an important and illuminating thread of the American story, this project aims to learn from and engage deeply in the historic and ongoing struggle for racial justice in the United States. In this way we hope to influence the construction of a shared American historical narrative — an American Story — that is capable of grounding and sustaining our precarious American experiment in the quest for true and equal citizenship for all.

The Course

The core of the Race and the American Story Project is our undergraduate course, which provides a distinctive opportunity for students to listen in on, and actively join, the conversations about race and American political principles that have in many ways defined American history from its beginning up to the present time. At Arizona State University, the course is being offered through the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership curriculum each spring and fills up fast!

Enroll here.

How it Began

The “Race and the American Story” project was created by — now — ASU professor Adam Seagrave and his colleague Stephanie Shonekan as a response to racial tensions that were percolating both nationally and on the University of Missouri (Mizzou) campus in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Mizzou professors in the Black Studies department work closely with ASU faculty to discuss more contentious topics about race.

Learn more. 

Race and the American Annual Symposium

Each year, the students and faculty involved in the course participate in a two-day immersive symposium held at a location of significance for the history of race in America. The goal is to engage in illuminating conversations, listen to unique presentations, encounter local history and culture, and build our community by getting to know one another. 

In 2020 and 2021 the COVID-19 pandemic required a reconfiguration of the concept and the Race and the American Story Symposium became a virtual "Zoomposium".

Our Third Annual Race and the American Story Symposium took a hard look at issues of race in the US today through the dual lenses of foundations and aspirations. Grappling with the past reveals the ground beneath us; looking to the future that illuminates the long road ahead. During two sessions, RAS faculty and students engaged in these two perspectives – the first session reflected on the foundational constructions of race and identity; the second session considered the contemporary climate and culture, and offered aspirations for the future. 

The Symposium culminated in a unique opportunity: a post-screening discussion of the critically acclaimed movie Princess of the Row with actors, Edi Gathegi and Taylor Buck and producer, Shawn Austin.

Watch the videos below to see how the Race and the American 2021 Zoomposium went!

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.”

-Maya Angelou.

Race and the American Story Media

Lloyd Gaines Documentary by Mizzou's School of Law

Lloyd Lionel Gaines applied to the University of Missouri School of Law in 1936. Despite an outstanding scholastic record, Gaines was denied admission based solely on the grounds that Missouri’s Constitution called for “separate education of the races.” Attorneys from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) identified Gaines’ case as a good vehicle to begin the incremental process of challenging the ignominious precedent of “separate but equal” established in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Together, they sued the University of Missouri seeking an order granting him admission to its Law School.

As the legal battle unfolded, Gaines disappeared under mysterious but unmistakably suspicious circumstances. Not only did Gaines never have the chance to attend the University of Missouri, but neither did any other Black student until 1950.

Learn more about Lloyd Gaines' Quest for Equality

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Lecture

This conversation with Angela Dillard, the Richard A. Meisler collegiate professor of Afroamerican & African studies at the University of Michigan, and Peter Myers, professor of Political Science and U.S. Constitutional Law, at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, will make the case that the Civil Rights Movement was marked by an intellectual and ideological diversity that incorporated a wide range of perspectives in debates about the nature of citizenship and the “proper” strategies for civil rights activism. Some of these threads stretch forward to our contemporary context, while others connect us profoundly to American founding principles. 

The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership’s annual Martin Luther King Day lecture provides an indispensable forum for the school to include historical and contemporary conversations about race in American society within the framework of civic discourse that inspires all of their public programs. 

Attend the Civic Discourse Project events.

1839 Built on Our B(l)ack Homecoming Parade Demonstration

When students at the University of Missouri started a petition calling for the system's president, Tim Wolfe, to resign, it was not simply because he hadn't done enough to address racism on campus. The petition clearly stated students were outraged that Wolfe sat in silence while his driver clipped at least one protester with a car during a demonstration weeks earlier.

On Oct. 10, a group of black students interrupted the Mizzou homecoming parade. Wearing T-shirts that read "1839 Was Built On My B(l)ack," referring to Mizzou's founding and slave labor, the students stopped right in front of the convertible that Wolfe was traveling in as he waved to parade watchers. The students took out a megaphone and one by one began speaking about incidents of systemic and anecdotal racism from the founding year 1839 through 2015.

Check out their Twitter for relevant activism.

Becoming American: Immigration and Civic Integration

Immigration has played an important role in almost every era in U.S. history, but it is often at the center of contentious political and economic debate. What does it mean to “become an American?” What responsibilities do new immigrants have to their newly adopted country? On October 30, 2019 at Arizona State University, Reihan Salam and Tomás Jiménez discussed the importance of civic integration for new immigrants to the United States and why it is necessary for both the new American and their new country.

This account discusses the stigma of immigration, naturalization, and the issues with assimilation. Assimilation is especially onerous for black, brown, and Asian immigrants that can't hide their skin color or unfamiliar features. With the rise of whiteness as a legal standing, many Europeans assimilated and became aware of the social and political power in racial exclusion.

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