Professor of history, Anthony Parent, has always had something of an aversion to addressing and investigating the intimate and the familiar.
A native of Los Angeles, Calif., Parent chose to specialize in African American history, more specifically the history of slavery in early Virginia – about as far away from Los Angeles as he could get without leaving the continental United States.
When asked why, he simply replied, “Because Virginia is not California. It’s very hard to do something close to home.”
But that is exactly what Provost Jill Tiefenthaler is requiring Parent to do at 4 p.m. on Feb. 26 in Wait Chapel in front of thousands of people.
Parent will deliver the 2009 Founders’ Day Convocation address as part of the celebration of the university’s 175th anniversary.
The address, titled “Weathering Wake, The African-American Experience,” requires Parent to examine both the wider university community and the specific, smaller community of which he counts himself a member – the vibrant African American community of the university.
“It’s a greater responsibility to give a history of a community, especially a community you’re part of. It’s daunting to think about,” Parent said of the pending address.
Parent is a long-standing member of the history department. He joined in 1989, two decades ago.
He teaches courses on African-American history, world civilizations, colonial America and the civil rights movement and was recently able to begin teaching a course he long thought should be taught at the university – Africa in World History.
His work on the slave history of Virginia has enabled him to author Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740 and to co-author Old Dominion, New Commonwealth, A History of Virginia, 1607-2007. Both of these texts have been adopted as texts in universities and colleges in Virginia and across the nation.
Foul Means notes his discovery of the largest slave rebellion in American history that occurred 100 years before the Nat Turner rebellion.
In that 1730 rebellion, also known as the Chesapeake Rebellion, more than 300 Africans escaped from Virginia into the Great Dismal Swamp, located between Norfolk, Va., and Elizabeth City, N.C.
“Weathering Wake, The African American Experience” will attempt to cover the history of the African-American community at the university from the May 1962 Board of Trustees meeting that officially integrated the school to the role of African-American students on the campus of the 21st century
“What I would contend, with merely telling the history of the black community at the university, is that the history of the African-American student is woven into the fabric of the university,” Parent said. “I cannot recount the whole history of these students; it is too expansive.”
What he will try to do is look at the turning points – the crucial moments in race relations on campus – and to highlight individuals and events that contributed to full integration of the university.
Parent will also address numerous social trends that surfaced through the history of the last four and a half decades at the university.
He will also discuss the success of black students and graduates and their contributions to the university.“A backdrop to all of this is that the African-Americans saw themselves as a community and had a common experience,” Parent said.
“I hope the wider student body is able to recognize the experience of African-Americans, that is to say, a different experience than those outside the African American community.”
When confronted with the idea that the university still lacks diversity, after all these years, Parent reiterated a former point, that African-Americans and other minority students contribute to every part of campus life.
Since integration, these students “have continued to participate in every facet of the university. I’ve always found African-American presence and participation within the school,” Parent said.
“The numbers may be more problematic,” Parent said.
“We could have more diversity, more multicultural students, but I feel that those that are currently enrolled are fully able to, and do, participate in the life of the university.”