The Public Humanist

The Public Humanist contributor: Barbara Lewis

Barbara Lewis is the Director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black History and Culture at UMass Boston.

Death in the Afternoon

The bravado shown by white supremacists in Charlottesville this week is supported by the symbols and images of manly Confederate heroes, the same ones that are memorialized in city landscapes and, soon, on popular television.


A Scientific Sea Change? What the Humanities Offer Environmental Science in the Anthropocene

A sample of plastiglomerate, collected on Kamilo Beach in Hawaii.

How might the sciences and the humanities converge in a geologic era marked by human activity?


Time for a Tree and a Rope

Jim Crow is again in the news and in the media on a regular basis, with recent sightings on state judicial and educational perches.


Voice Matters in the Land of the Free and Un-free

The immediate challenge to Michelle Obama’s statement about the slaves who built the White House is a very public reminder that words spoken by an African American tongue are still considered suspect.


Not Tucking Tail This Time

Phillis Wheatley

A trip to the library prompts thoughts about access to knowledge and the race-, class-, and gender-based barriers many have to surmount in order to gain access.


From Pail to Parlor: Hitting it out of the Park

Viola Davis’ headline-worthy comments at the Emmys are rooted in a history of black women challenging power.


The Desire Line

L'Merchie Frazier's Oath of Secrecy II: The Mask is Still Dancing

L’Merchie Frazier, an artist and educator who has created and lectured around the world, is working with young artists of color on a collective project for the Art Grove installation in Franklin Park, opening August 8. Frazier has named her project The Desire Line: Seventeen Syllables, and it reflects an improvisational departure from and exploration of expanded urban possibilities.


Who Gets the Glow?

Standing outside the glow of privilege and yet fostering a strong sense of self and creative verve takes a person of soft coal into diamond resilience; but how much glow do they get? They have miles to go before reaching Caitlynn’s zip code.


Longing for Home

“I don’t want to die too soon.” These words spoken by a young woman, the same age and complexion as Michael Brown, were voiced from a deep and lonely place. As a teenager facing adulthood and entering college, she identified with Brown, who no longer had a future to contemplate. It was gone, taken in a second. Her tomorrow still beckoned, but she recognized, perhaps as never before, that time and choice matter.


The Pornographic Plantation: Mammy Minstrel Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Molasses drips on the walls. Close to the entrance, leading to the altar and centerpiece of whiteness, brown sugar boys hold baskets as their faces and bodies melt in the heat. A few of them have collapsed on the floor, disintegrating into dark viscous puddles. And the onlookers who have come to the slavery fair to gawk and take pictures against a background of stark plantation pornography step over the fallen, with hardly a notice. But the sight of the fall and the reek of the demise linger.


Southern Sweetness, Light and Dark

A whole new vista, unexpected but clear, opened up as I sat next to and conversed with Dr. Wisdom on a border-crossing shuttle, going from Alabama to Georgia the first weekend in November. There we were, sitting side by side as we pulled out of Auburn heading for Atlanta to get to our northern flights on time, one going to the Midwest and the other heading East.Transition was in the air. The calendar had shifted; so had the hour. Daylight was ebbing and January was waiting in the wings.


Slavery no Featherweight

I wasn’t going far, just one stop. On my way out of the door of the red line train, I was astonished. A large white feather was in my path. It seemed very much out of place. It was dazzling in its whiteness, very long, pristine. The quill was robust. The kind, it seemed, that might have been used to write documents before there was a fountain pen, a ball point, or a roller ball. As I walked up the stairs to the exit, a memory flashed in my mind.


August Wilson’s 20th Century

“Hold up. You’re not done yet,” the woman in the corner told August.“Who are you?” August asked, blinking.“My name is Vera, and I belong in that story you’re telling,” she said. “That play is about me. You got it set right in my back yard, and you won’t be finished telling the whole of it until you get me right. So put down that glass of wine, put down that cigarette, and get back to work.”This scene happened not in a play, but in real life.