October 29, 2020

Author examines history of black families in America

Author Walter Greason spoke to the College about American black families and his new book. (Tom O’Dell / Photo Editor)

By Mengxia Zhang

Walter Greason, a Ursinus College history professor and author of the recently published book, “The Path to Freedom: Black Families in New Jersey,” visited the College to promote and discuss major points in black history. The event took place at 7 p.m. last Tuesday in Roscoe West Hall room 201 and drew a sizable audience of faculty and students.

According to Greason, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was the “most important (event).” The election of Barack Obama was another major event for people of color, he said.

He also used historical data to back up the fact that New Jersey was what he called “the most pro-slavery state in the Union.” The statement elicited some surprised looks from the audience.

“This is a story not told often,” Greason added in response, and stressed the fact that instead of pushing for desegregation, New Jersey was “going in the opposite direction.”

When asked to verify the statement by a student, Greason confirmed that it was true. “That’s a lie, you’ve been taught something that’s false,” he said.

Greason also hinted at the influence of white superiority and stressed that there is a widely held belief that “blacks should be controlled … marginalized.”

“The truth is less valuable than the feeling of pride,” he said, and added that the reason he wrote his book was because his job is “to tell the truth.”

According to Greason, his book exposes the sober situations of blacks seeking to live meaningful lives in a predominately white society in the late 19th century. But the stories that are told are also ones filled with hope.

“Despite hostile circumstances, they still had a dream that some day they would become part of America’s middle class,” he said.

His book is mostly filled with pictures of black families that lived in New Jersey to illustrate the struggles of these people to enjoy a higher status in society.

“Through pictures, you see their aspirations,” Greason said.

The book highlights opportunities blacks sought in a time when segregation was the norm in the U.S. Through their tales, readers can see the progress that blacks made toward freedom and eventually desegregation.

Greason ended by thanking students for taking the time to come to his talk. He praised the audience for coming to get a “complex view of the world we live in.”

“Your career … the choices you make … what you do is going to decide what happens in the next 50 years,” he said. “The future will be shaped by this generation of college students.”

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