Racial Reconciliation

Research, recommendations and ongoing work

The Racial Reconciliation Commission was established to find and express both a historical and moral truth about the racial history of the institution. As stated in the College’s Mission Statement, “we educate our community to ask reflective questions, apply critical thought and act with purpose.” Because of these principles, we are duty-bound to ask reflective questions about ourselves—both our past and present selves. We are then obligated to tell the truth about ourselves and act with purpose according to those truths.

A member of the Consortium of Universities Studying Slavery, the Racial Reconciliation Commission investigates the connections between the College, its founders and the institution of slavery, and the Commission found that the connections are clear and indisputable.

The Slavery, Memory, Justice Project started in 2020 by a group of students and faculty at William Jewell College, inspired by pioneering work done by Brown University and other institutions associated with the Universities Studying Slavery consortium. The group published research in April 2023.

About the Commission

  • Formation of the RRC

    In April 2021, Jewell announced the establishment of a Racial Reconciliation Commission to find and express both a historical and moral truth about the racial history of the institution. The Commission guides the communication of these findings to help shape Jewell’s next steps in an intentional way. The first report was released in January 2022.

    > Racial Reconciliation Report 1848-1879 DRAFT 1

    This research is not only regarded as pivotal to the Jewell community, but will provide insights into regional history, serving as a bridge to critical conversations around race. The Commission includes broad representation across campus groups and organizations throughout Kansas City. These Commission is tasked with asking difficult questions and identifying broad communications opportunities for 1) sharing the research findings and 2) recommending actionable items for Jewell.

    “William Jewell College has a deep passion for and commitment to the shared prosperity initiative throughout the Kansas City region, and our history is a critical piece of this conversation,” said Jewell President Dr. MacLeod Walls. “With the launch of purposeful, institution-wide inclusivity efforts in 2020, Jewell has made significant strides in welcoming diverse students and employees and in looking at all of our policies and practices—price and access in particular—through an equity lens.  We are eager to build upon this momentum with the launching of the Commission.” 

    Jewell’s research will be preserved and made available to the public at the Black Archives of Mid-America Kansas City, ensuring ongoing opportunities for public education and dialogue. Dr. Carmaletta Williams, executive director of the Black Archives and a member of the Racial Reconciliation Commission, said, "We are pleased to support the efforts of William Jewell College and the Racial Reconciliation Commission. Their work is in alignment with the Archives’ mission to honor our community heritage and catalyze public awareness and will become an important part of our collection at the Archives."

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  • Commission Membership

    • Vincent Paul Gauthier, Kansas City Real Estate Historian
    • Brynesha Griffin-Bey, Student Representative
    • Rev. Dr. Vernon Howard, Distinguished Alumnus and President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City   
    • Eileen Houston-Stewart, William Jewell Trustee Emerita and Alumna                    
    • Marcus Jones, Alumni Representative
    • Owen Kerrigan, Student Representative
    • Mark Mathes, Distinguished Alumnus and Liberty Resident
    • Chris McCabe, Staff Representative, Head Men’s Basketball Coach
    • Clark Morris, Staff Representative, Vice President for Advancement
    • Keith Pence, William Jewell College Trustee
    • Robert Powers, Faculty Representative/Librarian/Archivist
    • Dr. Andy Pratt, Dean Emeritus of the Chapel/Religious Historian
    • Dr. Cecelia Robinson, Professor Emerita and Historian of Clay County African American Legacy, Inc.
    • Dr. David Sallee, Community Advisor and William Jewell College President Emeritus
    • Dr. Rodney Smith, Commission Chair and Vice President for Access and Engagement
    • Dr. Carmaletta Williams, Executive Director of Mid-America Black Archives
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Statement of Atonement

  • Moving to Reconciliation

    As stated in the College’s Mission Statement, “we educate our community to ask reflective questions, apply critical thought and act with purpose.” Because of these principles, we are duty-bound to ask reflective questions about ourselves—both our past and present selves. We are then obligated to tell the truth about ourselves and act with purpose according to those truths.

    In April 2021, President Elizabeth MacLeod Walls established the Racial Reconciliation Commission (the Commission) with the aim of “finding and expressing both an historical and moral truth about the racial history of William Jewell College”. As such, the Commission for over a year has investigated the connections between the College, its founders and the institution of slavery. The Commission has found that the connections are clear and indisputable.

    From 1848 through 1865, William Jewell College benefitted from the talents, free labor and brilliance of enslaved Africans. It is well-established that Jewell not only condoned and profited from the institution of slavery, but in some cases defended this horrendous practice. It is also evident that Jewell benefitted from discriminatory practices following slavery’s abolition, even into the 21st century.

    We acknowledge our being a part of slavery’s proliferation, not only on our campus, but throughout the region, and for this we wish to make amends. We admit to having turned a blind eye to this truth for the one-hundred and seventy-three years of our existence. We stand fast to this acknowledgement and are sorry for our participation in the injustices perpetuated against African Americans after their enslavement was abolished. We were complicit with unjust laws and false ideas that led to most African Americans being denied full access to liberties that should have been their “unalienable rights.” We acknowledge that by upholding unjust laws and false ideas, Jewell departed from its “belief that every person is of the utmost importance and deserves dignity and respect.”

    This acknowledgment is our first step. We understand that a confession in and of itself is insufficient. We recognize that it will take considerable time before we gain a clearer picture of the injury we’ve caused and before we can fully appreciate the gifts, talents and genius of formerly enslaved persons and their descendants, who were significant to the establishment of Jewell. The Commission is committed to giving critical thought to this topic and to proposing possible ways in which the College can reconcile its documented racist past. Some of the Commission’s recommendations may include, but are not limited to, the College’s budget, hiring practices, scholarship offerings, curriculum design, and recruitment and retention measures. As a starting point, we suggest the following actions in an attempt to repair some of the harm caused by Jewell founders.

    We use the accompanying Principles of Commemoration as our guide as we attempt to move the College toward reconciliation.

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Principles of Commemoration

  • Guiding Principles

    Collaboration, Transparency, Continuous Learning, Intentional Representation

    The Principles of Commemoration inform how Jewell will commemorate its people, places, and/or events (i.e. program names, property names, monuments...etc.). The Principles encourage greater inclusion in place-making; promote a broader understanding of history and its legacy on our community; and confront the legacy of slavery and systemic racism on our campus. Commemoration is an intentional act of acknowledging the memory of a subject that is significant to a people and/or community. It can include positive and honorific celebrations of the past and present, as well as the tragic, controversial, and shameful dimensions of history and culture.

    Community commemorations are typically long-term markers intended to educate, encourage reflection, and remind passersby not to forget. They reflect community values by visibly showing how we choose to collectively honor the past, mark the present, and shape the future. Commemorations also symbolize who and what we collectively choose to include as well as exclude. As such, the Commission commits to the following principles:

    Collaboration: We believe that this work is within the purview of the entire Jewell community, thus we maintain a posture of collaboration and partnership. Our aim is to foster a sense of ownership in all stakeholders.

    Transparency: We strive for open and honest dialogue with any and all concerned parties, and understand that progress moves at the speed of trust. We believe that trust can only be established with transparency.

    Continuous Learning: Because we aim to create a culture of high trust, we commit ourselves to the principle of continuous learning. Learning from our successes and failures leads to increased knowledge. Ultimately, we are committed to expanding our knowledge in response to our ever-changing environment.

    Intentional Representation: Representation refers to the basic idea that when individuals see reflections of themselves in their surroundings, they are more likely to develop a sense of belonging. At the core of this work, we maintain a commitment to intentionally reflect our entire community.

    Using the above principles as our guide, the Commission will make recommendations in the following four areas in an effort to move the College toward reconciliation.

    1. Addressing Historical Inaccuracy
    2. Commemoration
    3. Repair and Restoration
    4. Creating a Better Future
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  • Addressing Historical Inaccuracy

    No existing written history of the College reflects the role of slavery in its founding. The Commission recommends that the facts that have been revealed over the past two years be included in the written history of the College and that a complete and thorough historical document be commissioned that addresses the role that slavery played in the founding of the College.

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  • Recommendations for Commemoration

    The Commission recognizes that the names of campus spaces, recognitions, and programs continue to do harm.  To change such names makes a statement about the College’s commitment to respecting and honoring the humanity of all, its commitment to addressing the truth of its past, and its commitment to building a better future. The Commission recommends that the College establish a standing committee on commemoration that will have longevity and a permanent role on this campus. To dovetail with this standing committee, which should be activated after the work of the Commission ends, we recommend the following steps be taken immediately:

    • Develop a Freedom Walk on the Quad that speaks to the role of enslavement in the founding of the College, the role of African Americans in the first century of the College prior to integration of the student body, and the role of African Americans since integration. The Commission views this Freedom Walk as an extremely effective public method by which the College can honestly share its full and rich history. [Dedication: May 6, 2024]
    • Rename the Racial Reconciliation Commission, the Katherine “Kitty” Thompson Alexander Project: A Journey to Reconciliation. Kitty Thompson Alexander served as a cook at William Jewell College from 1869 to 1899. Mrs. Alexander was much more than a cook, she served as a “mother” to Jewell’s students. To acknowledge her work and dedication to the College, the Commission should be renamed in honor of Mrs. Alexander’s commitment and service to humanity at Jewell. [complete]
    • Because of Alexander Doniphan’s known campaign to, not only, support the institution of slavery, but preserve it, we endorse the Student Senate’s recent recommendation to rename the Alexander Doniphan Leadership Award, the William G. Summers Award, in honor of the first African American male student to attend William Jewell College; he was admitted to the College in 1961. [complete]
    • The Alexander Doniphan Room in Brown Hall has been renamed, the Audrey Burgette Room, in honor of the first African American female student to attend William Jewell College; she was admitted to the College circa 1962 and graduated in 1966. Learn more about her by viewing the naming ceremony program here[complete]
    • Designate an annual day of remembrance on Jewell’s academic calendar.
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  • Repair and Restoration

    The Commission recognizes that the harm done to enslaved persons was often determinative of family health and economic success for multiple generations. Further, while many African Americans worked at Jewell from 1849 to 1961, they nor their families were afforded the opportunity to attend the College. While it is not possible to repair or even to assess all of the damage done, the Commission recommends that the College take steps to repair the damage insofar as possible. 

    • Establish an annual scholarship for the descendants of Jewell’s African American employees who could not attend the college prior to 1961.
    • Establish a scholarship program for the descendants of the persons enslaved by the College’s foremost founding fathers: Dr. William Jewell and Col. Alexander Doniphan.
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  • Creating a Better Future

    Getting the history correct, repaying damage done, and removing the continuing reminders of harm are all positive steps. However, they are relatively empty steps if programs that assist in moving the College forward on this journey of reconciliation are not established. Therefore, the Commission recommends that the College undertake the following activities:

    • Join the Consortium of Universities Studying Slavery. [complete; Jewell accepted an invitation from this group in early 2023]
    • Join the Greater Kansas City Black History Study Group, a group established by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). [complete]
    • Establish a relationship with Clay County historian Gary Fuenfhausen, who has done extensive work on slavery in Clay County, in order to learn more about the peculiar institution and its effect on Jewell.
    • Establish a faculty exchange program with an Historically Black College/University (HBCU) where a HBCU professor, or another expert on African American life and culture would teach at Jewell for a semester or a designated time period. 
    • Create a writer-in-residence program and invite an African American writer, historian, scholar or poet to Jewell for a semester or longer to teach and conduct workshops/seminars.
    • Create a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging honorarium to recognize a faculty or staff member who actively works to create an equitable and inclusive learning environment.
    • Continue to empower African American students to accomplish their life goals and to acknowledge their heritage via the African principle of Sankofa, meaning to know your history and your heritage is to know your current self, the world around you and how to make both better.”

    This document and the actions described therein serve as evidence of Jewell’s commitment to acknowledge the wrong doings of our past and to stand now and in the future as concrete evidence of our commitment to ensure justice for all. As stated earlier in this document, this process and work are just beginning. These are initial steps in our process, not ending ones.  The Katherine “Kitty” Thompson Alexander Project will be steadfast in its commitment to identify the College’s past and present discriminatory practices, and will continue to propose additional avenues for reconciliation and restitution.

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Slavery, Memory, Justice Project

  • Seeking Answers

    Students and faculty who created this group  in 2020 set out to answer these questions in their research:

    • What influence did slavery have on William Jewell College, from its founding in 1849 until the end of the Civil War and beyond?
    • To what extent did the coerced labor of enslaved people contribute to generating the wealth used by the college’s founders and early trustees to establish and sustain the college?
    • What actions did the college’s founders take to promote—or undermine—slavery as an institution?
    • What information can we recover about the lives and identity of the enslaved people whose labor was essential to establishing William Jewell College?
    • How can this history be remembered in ways that promote the creation of a more just and inclusive community in the future?

    More information on their research can be found on their webpage: slaverymemoryandjustice.org/.

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