CML Team awarded 2021 Summer Team Impact Grant for “Black Lives Next Door”

by Jessica Clark

The Center for Mason Legacies (CML) is pleased to announce the receipt of a Summer Team Impact Grant for “Black Lives Next Door,” an interdisciplinary project and collaboration between faculty and students to explore the environs surrounding the early years of George Mason College and its transition to a university.

LaNitra Berger (senior director of fellowships in the Office of Undergraduate Education, instructor, and affiliated faculty of CML), Benedict Carton (associate professor of History and associate director of CML), and George Oberle (History Librarian, assistant professor, and director of CML) will lead the summer team of six undergraduate students and two graduate research assistants.

During the summer of 2020, a season of protest against police-involved killings of unarmed African Americans, the legal scholar Richard Rothstein wrote a New York Times op-ed, “Black Lives Next Door.” In this op-ed, he urged more scholarly studies of “comprehensive racial inequity…that allows abusive…practices to flourish” at the local level.

Rothstein’s call for new research prompted Berger, Carton, and Oberle to explore the racial inequities that shaped neighborhoods around the George Mason University campus in Fairfax. The faculty team also credits their participation in the pedagogical pursuits of President Washington’s Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence (ARIE) for informing their proposed project. Berger serves on the Curriculum & Pedagogy Committee, Carton on the Research Committee, and Oberle on the Campus & Community Engagement Committee of ARIE.

The team of selected undergraduates will examine the founding years of George Mason College and its associated history of dislodging particular homeowners and renters. They will be guided by two important questions: why and how did the College remove from its immediate vicinity Black communities established by Jim Crow-era residential covenants? What happened to the supplanted people and can their experiences of displacement by recovered and brought to light?

“One of the things that is important to me, and a vital aspect of the work of the Center for Mason Legacies, is uncovering hidden history, particularly the stories around us and involving our George Mason University community,” says Oberle. “I have been part of this community since 1994 in various capacities, as student, librarian, and instructor. This time of racial reckoning across our country – and locally – has encouraged me to examine some of my preconceived ideas about our university’s history. I’m excited for our students to be part of this examination, to have the opportunity to uncover lost stories through hands-on history explorations, and to learn more about their community through the questions they raise during our conversations and fieldwork this summer.”

The undergraduate student positions will be posted on Handshake, the university’s career database for students, in mid-February. Primary duties of undergraduate student researchers will include: conducting field research with teams of graduate students, undergraduate students, and faculty; collecting, depositing, and providing metadata description of documentary evidence in an online digital archive system (Omeka); and collaborating to produce an online exhibit which synthesizes and analyzes the collected evidence to share stories about these communities. As conditions allow, student fieldwork may involve conducting oral history interviews and digitizing relevant real estate and suburban planning information sourced from archives, court houses, and libraries.