JMRL has been awarded a Revisiting the Founding Era Grant to implement public programming and community conversations that explore America’s founding and its enduring themes. As part of the grant, JMRL received $1,000 to help implement programs, and additional digital resources, training, and support from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the American Library Association. These resources will allow JMRL to launch a two-program series on the Founding Era. And local residents are invited to attend the following two free events:
Revisiting the Founding Era Panel on Saturday February 9, 2019, at 2 – 3:30PM Clay Hansen, Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, will join UVa’s Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History, Alan Shaw Taylor, to talk about the Constitution writing process and founders’ intent through the lens of current events in Charlottesville and across the nation. The discussion will be moderated by local librarian and local historian Miranda Burnett at the Northside Library.
Constitution Community Discussion on Sunday 24, 2019, at 2 – 3:30PM Join your neighbors for a community discussion event reflecting on current events through a historical lens with a focus on the founding fathers. Discussion facilitator Dr. Michael Dickens will lead this event at the Central Library.
Revisiting the Founding Era is a three-year national initiative of The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, presented in partnership with the American Library Association and the National Constitution Center, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant provided 100 public libraries across the country the opportunity to use historical documents to spark public conversations about the Founding Era’s enduring ideas and themes.
Brown Baggers met on February 15 to discuss The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Originally published in 2016, this novel focuses on the escape story of enslaved woman named Cora as she travels north on her search for freedom. The Underground Railroad was well regarded by critics and selected for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. It won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Whitehead used a literal train as a device to move the story and characters from point to point on their journey. This threw off some readers who thought it would detract from the other historical details present in the book and some found it harder to read as a result. They also were chagrined at the state of education in America when they discovered the gullibility of acquaintances — thinking the train was real because it’s called an underground railroad. Others felt it freed the author up to have such horrific realistic details if the main focus was fantastical.
The horrific violence kept some readers from reading continuously. While the brutality made them take frequent breaks and spread out their reading they felt it was very realistic and was well written, just a tough subject. They recoiled from the depictions of strong hatred and spite towards African Americans and talked about the seeds of racism that lead to such behaviors.
Talking about racism brought the discussion forward to the present day, allowing reflections on the horrific events here in Charlottesville during August 2017. Readers felt like the book’s popularity is due to the need for a reminder of what has happened historically as well as what may still not be resolved. They discussed the concept of African Americans and freedom — how free they are or feel like they are. Readers were impressed by those willing to help people escaping slavery on the Underground Railroad despite the near constant threat of death.
The key to the book was relationships, readers felt — mainly those Cora has with Lovey, Royal, and Mabel. Also mentioned was Cora’s relationship with herself and her similarities and differences from the antagonist Ridgeway, doing whatever they have to to survive. Readers were astounded that she had such a strong sense of self despite not being her own person. This sense of self allowed her to care for and defend her plot of land and continue forward and northward despite many setbacks in her journey to freedom.
Brown Baggers will meet again on March 15 at noon to discuss the JMRL inaugural Same Page community read selection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander. For a free copy stop by the Reference Desk at the Central Library.