Jewell dedicates Freedom Walk


On May 6, William Jewell College dedicated a Freedom Walk, one of several ways Jewell’s Racial Reconciliation Commission is telling a fuller and more accurate history of the College founded in 1849. The series of four bronze plaques have been installed on the campus quad and focus on distinct periods in the College’s 175-year history to address the contributions of enslaved persons in the founding and growth of the College and the integration of African Americans in the student body. 

“Our goals are to remedy a glaring absence in the physical memorialization of the earliest period in the College’s history, addressing historical inaccuracy, commemoration, repair and restoration as well as creating a better future,” said Dr. Rodney Smith, vice president for access and engagement and chair of the Racial Reconciliation Commission.

The themes of each plaque include the following:

  • Honor the enslaved Africans from 1848-1865 whose unpaid labor created wealth for individuals who contributed financially to the establishment and maintenance of William Jewell College, and whose unpaid labor constructed Jewell Hall and the building materials. Early leaders named the College after a physician, Dr. William Jewell, who gave a significant financial gift for the school’s founding and who owned five enslaved Africans. A significant number of the College’s early leaders enslaved Africans.
  • Remember 25 African Americans, by name, who worked at William Jewell College from 1868-1962, a period when they and their families were not allowed to enroll as students.
  • Commend, by name, the first 75 African American graduates of William Jewell College. The College began admitting African American students in 1962, about 113 years after its founding.
  • Support current and future students who are making the journey toward inclusion and freedom.

This memorial was funded by significant grants from the Rotary Club of Liberty and the family of Racial Reconciliation Commissioner Mark Mathes, a Jewell alumnus and Liberty resident, as well as by gifts from Jewell alumni and friends.

It is important to understand the legacy of our past. As a fourth-generation Liberty resident, alumna of William Jewell, board of trustee emerita and Racial Reconciliation Commissioner, I am proud to see my alma mater do the work to acknowledge its history and pave a path to better understanding of those whose labor laid the foundations of this institution,” said Eileen Houston-Stewart. “Among them were members of my family, whose strength and sacrifices we remember and celebrate with profound gratitude. May the Freedom Walk serve as a lasting tribute to their invaluable contributions and a beacon of hope and progress."

Jewell’s Racial Reconciliation Commission was formed in 2021 to find and express both a historical and moral truth about the racial history of the institution, and in 2020, the Slavery, Memory and Justice Project was started by a group of students and faculty, inspired by pioneering work done by Brown University and other institutions associated with the Universities Studying Slavery consortium, of which Jewell is a member. The College also is a member of the Greater Kansas City Black History Study Group. This 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, CEO of the Black Archives, has contributed to the research and commemoration work as a member of the Racial Reconciliation Commission.

Speakers at the dedication include Racial Reconciliation Commissioners Mark Mathes, Dr. Rodney Smith and Dr. Carmaletta Williams.

Read the Commission’s principles of commemoration, statement of atonement and other work in the journey of reconciliation.