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Dickinson to Host Timely Lecture on Importance of African American History

Portrait of Jonathan Holloway standing in front of a brown stone building.

Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway

The J. Howard Wert Lecture

Rutgers University president and prominent historian Jonathan Holloway will deliver Dickinson’s annual J. Howard Wert Lecture, “The Cause of Freedom: On the Importance of African American History,” on Saturday, April 15, at 7 p.m. in the Anita Tuvin Schlechter (ATS) Auditorium. Holloway will speak from the lectern that was on the speaker’s platform on November 19, 1863, when Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. The event is free and open to the public, and it will be livestreamed. Doors open at 6 p.m. for guests to view the lectern and other rare artifacts from the Gettysburg battlefield, as well as artifacts representing African American history. The talk will be followed by a book signing.

The lecture takes its name from Holloway’s 2021 book, The Cause of Freedom: A Concise History of African Americans. Holloway specializes in scholarly work on post-emancipation U.S. history with a focus on social and intellectual history.

The lecture is timely, happening as lawmakers in Florida and other states seek to put limits on anti-racism efforts, frameworks like critical race theory and teaching materials like The New York Times’ 1619 Project. The campus posters advertising Holloway’s talk carry the warning “this lecture might contain material now banned in Florida and other states.”

“Unfortunately, this was not intended as a joke,” explains Matthew Pinsker, director of the House Divided Project, which is sponsoring the lecture. “African American history is under assault across this country.”

Pinsker is a noted Lincoln historian and Dickinson’s Pohanka Chair in American Civil War History. “We invited Dr. Holloway to come to Dickinson and speak in front of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address lectern so he could help explain to our students why African American history matters, perhaps now more than ever,” he says. “We fully expect the evening’s discussion to be lively and thought-provoking, but also unifying and inspiring. ‘The Cause of Freedom’ is one that every American—of any background or party affiliation—should strive to understand in all its dimensions.”

Holloway is the first Black president of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Prior to leading Rutgers, Holloway served as provost of Northwestern University from 2017 to 2020 and as a faculty member at Yale University from 1999 to 2017.

The first 50 students to arrive at the lecture will receive signed copies of Holloway’s The Cause of Freedom. Additionally, high school students participating in Dickinson’s innovative Knowledge for Freedom summer seminar will also be receiving free signed copies of Holloway’s book. The Knowledge for Freedom program is designed specially to prepare low-income or first-generation college students for college. From July 16-28, up to three dozen rising high school seniors from around the region will be participating on campus in this free residential experience that includes field trips to Gettysburg and Washington, DC. “The Cause of Freedom” will be one of the assigned texts. The deadline for applications is May 31.

The J. Howard Wert Lecture is an annual event that honors the memory of its namesake, an author, educator, Civil War veteran and collector. Wert was a young abolitionist and resident of Adams County, Pennsylvania, who was present when Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address in 1863. The House Divided Project launched this annual lecture series in 2019 in partnership with the J. Howard Wert Collection and its current owner and curator, G. Craig Caba. Prior Wert lecturers have been Christy Coleman, former CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Va., and noted military historian Eric Wittenberg.

For more information, visit the House Divided Project’s website.

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Published April 7, 2023