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Tomiko Brown-Nagin

  • Charles Ogletree Jr. : 1952-2023

    August 5, 2023

    Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. ‘78, or Tree, as he was affectionately known, the celebrated, influential, and beloved Harvard Law professor and civil rights scholar, died peacefully on August 4 in his home in Odenton, Maryland, from the natural progression of Alzheimer's disease.

  • Radcliffe Parole Reform Panel Features Rapper

    May 3, 2023

    Five years after his high-profile release from prison, Grammy-nominated rapper Meek Mill spoke at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute about reforming the American parole system. Mill joined…

  • Ophelia Dahl to receive 2023 Radcliffe Medal

    March 9, 2023

    Ophelia Dahl, the internationally recognized health care and social justice advocate and one of the founders of Partners In Health, will receive the prestigious Radcliffe…

  • Change the Senate

    November 30, 2022

    Many analysts and citizens believe that the Constitution, more than 230 years old, is out of touch with contemporary America. We asked the scholars Danielle…

  • Enshrine an affirmative right to vote

    November 21, 2022

    Tomiko Brown-Nagin argues that a Constitutional amendment enshrining the right to vote would demonstrate ‘absolute commitment’ to full participation in U.S. democracy.

  • An illustration of a wearing a black judges robe standing in front of a courthouse

    The Civil Rights Queen and Her Court

    July 16, 2022

    Tomiko Brown-Nagin’s book recounts the remarkable — and too little-known — life and achievements of civil rights lawyer and judge Constance Baker Motley

  • A drawing of Harvard Yard at its founding

    Reckoning with a Painful Legacy

    July 14, 2022

    Harvard issues a report on the university’s connections to slavery and its long history of discrimination against Black people long after slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment.

  • Harvard’s good-faith effort to reckon with its past should be applauded

    May 2, 2022

    “An institution entangled with American slavery and its legacies.” That was how a faculty committee described Harvard University in a landmark study documenting, in unflinching detail, the school’s extensive ties to slavery. The report detailed how enslaved people worked on the campus for more than 150 years, how the school benefited from deep financial connections to slavery and how its academics promoted racist theories. At a time when some are trying to whitewash U.S. history, this bracing honesty is most welcome. ... Harvard is not the first university to try to come to grips with its problematic past. Indeed, it has lagged behind others, such as Georgetown University and Brown University, and its efforts came under immediate criticism. Why did it take Harvard so long? Couldn’t $100 million be better spent directly helping the victims of bigotry and belittlement? The university expected this criticism. “We are not naive. This is an age of deep social divisions, and we know our efforts may be met with criticism and cynicism,” Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow and Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the scholar who led Harvard’s effort, wrote in The Post. The university can show its commitment to making amends by ensuring its money goes to causes that achieve maximum good for those still struggling under the country’s brutal legacy of slavery and racism.

  • New Harvard Law banners hanging on Langdell Hall

    Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery

    April 28, 2022

    A report issued by the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery recounts the many ways Harvard University participated in, and profited from, slavery. Harvard leaders and scholars examine the report and its implications for the future.

  • Harvard Law School unveils memorial honoring enslaved people who enabled its founding

    Understanding the legacy of slavery

    April 28, 2022

    Following the release of a report by the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, Harvard Law Dean John F. Manning has announced initiatives to honor the enslaved people whose labor generated wealth that contributed to Harvard Law School’s founding.

  • After revealing hard truths, Harvard’s next tough task: Defining reparations

    April 28, 2022

    Harvard University is publicly facing some brutally hard truths. A massive report, years in the making, was released this week detailing the institution’s ties to and enrichment from the enslavement of Black people. It’s full of gut-wrenching details, from the more than 70 human beings who were owned by faculty, staff, and even presidents of the university, to the remains of 15 Black people from the antebellum era found among the holdings of Harvard’s Peabody Museum, to the fact that a third of the university’s endowment from the first half of the 19th century came from donors whose fortunes were fueled by the slave trade. ... “It will bring us closer together as a community, and create deeper bonds among us,” [Tomiko Brown-Nagin] said. “I do know, obviously there are some very difficult things in the report.” But, she added, it’s also vital to note the immeasurable contributions Black and brown alumni have made to the university, Boston, and the world. “It’s important to me — I’m a civil rights historian — to have that be a theme of the report, because it’s a way of truth-telling as well, and ensuring that a broader array of graduates and individuals and communities represent Harvard,” Brown-Nagin said.

  • Harvard Details Its Ties to Slavery and Its Plans for Redress

    April 27, 2022

    In one column are the names of more than 70 enslaved people at Harvard: Venus, Juba, Cesar, Cicely. They are only first names, or sometimes no name at all — “the Moor” or “a little boy” — of people and stories that have been all but forgotten. In another column are the names of the ministers and presidents and donors of Harvard who enslaved them in the 17th and 18th centuries: Increase Mather, Gov. John Winthrop, William Brattle. These full names are so powerful and revered they still adorn buildings today. The contrasting lists are arguably the most poignant part of a 134-page report on Harvard University’s four centuries of ties to slavery and its legacy. ... Reparations “means different things to different people, so fixating on that term, I think, can be counterproductive,” Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the committee chair, a professor of both law and history, and dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, said in an interview.

  • Dual message of slavery probe: Harvard’s ties inseparable from rise, and now University must act

    April 27, 2022

    A new report shows that Harvard’s ties to slavery were transformative in the University’s rise to global prominence, and included enslaved individuals on campus, funding from donors engaged in the slave trade, and intellectual leadership that obstructed efforts to achieve racial equality. The report of the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, released Tuesday, describes a history that began with a Colonial-era embrace of slavery that saw 79 people enslaved by Harvard presidents and other leaders, faculty, and staff. The report offers a series of recommendations — already accepted by Harvard President Larry Bacow — that amounts to a reckoning with the University’s history. A $100 million fund established by the Harvard Corporation to implement the recommendations includes resources for current use and to establish an endowment to sustain the work in perpetuity. ... “The committee thought that it was important to lay bare the difficult aspects of Harvard’s history, but also speak to the resistance that is very much a part of Harvard’s legacy,” [Tomiko] Brown-Nagin said. “I am aware that the history we trace in this report is deeply troubling. But it would be a great disservice to our community if the only message that we took away was one of shame. We must acknowledge the harm that Harvard has done. But it is also important that we do not — as has been done in the past — bury stories of Black resistance, excellence, and leadership. These women and men are also part of our history — also part of our legacy.”

  • Revealing webs of inequities rooted in slavery, woven over centuries

    April 26, 2022

    A report issued Tuesday by a committee appointed by Harvard President Larry Bacow and led by legal scholar and historian Tomiko Brown-Nagin details the University’s deep connections to slavery in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and to legacies of slavery well into the 20th century. It also illuminates how those ties “powerfully shaped Harvard” and suggests a range of actions the University can take to help “ameliorate the persistent educational and social harms that human bondage caused to descendants, to the campus community, and to surrounding cities, the Commonwealth, and the nation.” Harvard has pledged to provide long-term funding to address the initiative’s findings. The Gazette spoke with Brown-Nagin, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, about the report and the path forward. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

  • Why Ketanji Brown Jackson and Kamala Harris idolize civil rights lawyers like Constance Baker Motley

    April 11, 2022

    As Kamala Harris made history in her speech accepting the vice presidential nomination in 2020, she broke into a broad grin as she invoked the name of her hero: Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge. Eighteen months later, Motley’s memory was summoned again, this time by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson upon her nomination to the Supreme Court. ... “It tells me she knows her history — the history of the civil rights movement,” said Tomiko Brown-Nagin, a Harvard Law professor and author of “Civil Rights Queen,” a newly released biography of Motley.

  • Ketanji Brown Jackson is the beginning, not the end, of this story

    April 7, 2022

    An op-ed by Tomiko Brown-NaginDespite the toxic partisan politics displayed during the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson last month, her likely ascension to the US Supreme Court – as an eminently qualified jurist and the first African American woman justice – marks a profound and positive change in the nation’s history. In 2022, we are closer than ever to the aspiration of equal protection promised in the US Constitution and our laws, even as race and gender inequities endure in many areas of American life. This is a moment worthy of celebration. But it also invites reflection on how individual success relates to the ideal of opportunity for all.  

  • A Culinary Journey

    March 29, 2022

    Cooking Practices “can open a window into the lives of enslaved people and help us understand slavery and its legacies,” said Radcliffe Institute dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin on Thursday, introducing a talk by chef and culinary historian Michael Twitty on the intertwined history of slavery and American foodways. The event was part of the initiative on Harvard’s ties to slavery, launched by President Lawrence Bacow in 2019 and headed by Brown-Nagin. The initiative’s faculty committee will be releasing a report of its findings and recommendations next month.

  • Examining 2 days of Senate confirmation hearings for Biden’s Supreme Court nominee

    March 23, 2022

    NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute, about Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson's judicial philosophy.