LU-LIT Constitution Day program to focus on slavery and the Constitution

By The SE Texas Record | Sep 6, 2011



Lamar University and Lamar Institute of Technology will recognize Constitution Day Wednesday, Sept. 14, with a program focusing on slavery and the Constitution.

Jeff Forret, associate professor of history, and Paul Griffith, associate professor of English and modern languages, will speak at the event, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Conference Center of the Multipurpose Building, 802 E. Lavaca on the LIT campus. The program is open to the public without charge. Refreshments will be served after the program.

"Fugitive Slaves, the Constitution and the Civil War" will be Forret's topic. Griffith will speak on "Paradox and Parody in Selected Narratives of Slavery: The American Constitution and African-American Double-Consciousness."

The Constitution of 1787 included a fugitive slave clause that authorized the return of runaways apprehended across state lines, Forret said. "In keeping with the Constitution Day theme, I will look at the fate of the fugitive slave clause during the Civil War."

The outbreak of the war led to questions about enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, he said, and enforcement "grew increasingly difficult as fugitive slaves began flocking to Union armies by the thousands in search of safe haven."

President Lincoln signed the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act on June 28, 1864, and the 13th Amendment abolished slavery altogether in 1865, Forret noted.

Griffith said the presentation "puts in perspective ideas that selected African-American writers and social critics . . . brought to the fore in order to address what many saw as hypocrisies and perversions in maintaining slavery in the face of the American Constitution.

"The moral challenge these voices raised for the nation was the irreconcilability of slavery . . . with the constitutionally enshrined democratic principles decreeing to all Americans the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," said Griffith.

"Constantly raising the idea of respect for human dignity adopted in the Constitution, these writers aimed to prick the consciences of the proponents of slavery who therein reneged on the humanist prescription the Founding Fathers had envisioned as a fundamental ethic with regard to the new nation's noble mission."

Forret, who joined the LU faculty in 2005, earned his bachelor's degree from St. Ambrose University, master's degree from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and his doctorate from the University of Delaware. In addition to the U.S. history surveys, he teaches courses on the Old South, slavery, colonial America, the early republic, antebellum America and race and sex in American history, among others.

A social historian specializing in southern history and slavery, he has published "Race Relations at the Margins: Slaves and Poor Whites in the Antebellum Southern Countryside" and a number of articles in scholarly journals and anthologies. His textbook, "Slavery in the United States," will be published in 2012.

A Lamar faculty member since 1997, Griffith teaches courses in African-American and other ethnic literature, including Native American, Hispanic and post-colonial literature. Griffith earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of the West Indies in Barbados and his doctorate at Penn State University.

He is the author of "Wha' Sweeten Goat Mout': Short Caribbean Tales," published in 2011 and inspired by stories he heard as a child growing up in Barbados. His previous book, "Afro-Caribbean Poetry and Ritual" researches and analyzes residues of African rituals in the New World." He also has written articles for scholarly journals and research publications.

Additional information on the Constitution Day program is available from Theresa Hefner-Babb at (409) 880-2135. Hefner-Babb is instruction coordinator/government documents librarian at the Mary and John Gray Library and an adjunct instructor of history.

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