Politics, Public History, and Memory: An Interview with Niya BatesHistorians in the News
tags: African American history, public history, Monitcello
J.T. Roane is assistant professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati. He is also part of the University’s urban futures initiative. Roane is broadly concerned about matters of geography, sexuality, and religion in relation to Black communities. He is at work on a manuscript, Dark Agoras: Insurgent Black Social Life and the Politics of Place in Philadelphia, which historicizes multiple modes of insurgent spatial assemblage Black communities articulated in Philadelphia in the second half of the twentieth century. Follow him on Twitter @JTRoane.
In today’s post, senior editor J. T. Roane interviews Niya Bates, a native of Charlottesville, Virginia and a two-time graduate of the University of Virginia with degrees in Architectural History and African and African American Studies. She is Director of African American History at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, where she leads the Getting Word African American Oral History Project. As a public historian at Monticello, Niya is responsible for engaging local and national audiences in conversations about slavery and its legacies. She aided in the development of several new exhibitions at Monticello including “Getting Word” and “The Life of Sally Hemings” and is leading efforts to memorialize Monticello’s enslaved community. Her research focuses on race, cultural landscapes, slavery and freedom. She is currently serving on the boards of Preservation Piedmont and the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. She is a member of the President’s Commission on UVA in the Age of Segregation and an advisor for the UVA Landscapes Studies. In 2017, she published an article titled “Race and Architectural History: An Appeal” in Arris: Journal of the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians. Follow her on twitter @undeNIYAable.
J.T. Roane: Tell us more about your public history work at Monticello and in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia.
Niya Bates: I’ve been working at Monticello, a plantation museum and the home of Thomas Jefferson since 2016. At Monticello, I lead a project called the Getting Word African American Oral History Project, where we’ve spent the last 26 years collecting oral histories from over 200 direct descendants of people who were enslaved by Thomas Jefferson – including the Hemings and a dozen or so other families.
And since Millennials love side hustles, I also work in the Charlottesville and Albemarle communities to preserve Black history through national register nominations, oral history, and the usual tricks and trades of public history. Right now, I’m working on a project with the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which was Charlottesville’s first Black high school, on a project to identify the origins of Charlottesville’s Black community. Because there was never a “great migration” to Charlottesville, our hypothesis is that the current Black community has deep connections to former plantations in Albemarle and surrounding counties and that they should be celebrated for their contributions to local history.
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