Local Spotlight: Interview with Dr. Hilary N. Green

May 31, 2018 | Feature, Interviews, Tuscaloosa

Dr. Hilary N. Green is an Assistant Professor of History in the Department of Gender and Race Studies and serves as the co-program director of the African American Studies program. She also has a partial appointment in American Studies.

She earned her B.A. in History with minors in Africana Studies and Pre-Healing Arts from Franklin and Marshall College; M.A. in History from Tufts University; and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Her research and teaching interests include the intersections of race, class, and gender in African American history, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, Civil War Memory, the US South, 19th Century America, and the Black Atlantic.

She is the author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (Fordham University Press, April 2016) as well as articles, book reviews, encyclopedia entries, and a book chapter in The Urban South During the Civil War Era, edited by Andrew L. Slap and Frank Towers, (University of Chicago Press, 2015). She is the book review editor for the Journal of North Carolina Association of Historians.

She is currently at work on a second book manuscript examining how everyday African Americans remembered and commemorated the Civil War.

Interview by WENDY DINWIDDIE

We sat down with Dr. Hilary N. Green, the creator of the “Hallowed Grounds: Race, Slavery, and the University of Alabama,” tour, as well as other commemorative walking tours across the Southeast that “seek to shed light onto the lives, experiences, and legacy of the many enslaved men, women, and children who lived, worked, and even died” at these sites. Find out more about her research here: http://hgreen.people.ua.edu/

We are excited that this interview with Dr. Green kicks off our local spotlight. The tour has altered the way many of us at BWR interact with the campus and Tuscaloosa. Dr. Green’s work has broadened our idea of art and its possibilities– it has also transformed the way we conceptualize the “South,” its histories, and landscapes.

Black Warrior Review: Can you talk a little about what started this project for you?

Dr. Hilary N. Green: The current historical marker for the Little Round/Guard House and a student’s remarks inspired the tour. Historians read markers, plaques, monuments, etc. I am no different. I encountered the marker text during my on-campus interview and again when I officially joined the faculty. Both times I wanted to know who were the enslaved men who comprised the University Drum Corps? Second inspiration came from a student during my second semester at UA. His proclamation that slavery did not exist at the University prompted my more immediate research in ACUMEN, W. S. Hoole Special Collections and the development of a walking tour that could be incorporated in my revised course.

BWR: What reactions have you had to your tours?

HG: It has been positive. For many, it was the first time in which they had heard the information. It has inspired some attendees to create poetry, art pieces, and even dance. It has also inspired others to learn more by reading the few works on the subject and sparked research projects. The online version of the tour has been used by UA faculty, students, and staff as well as homeschool parents and others outside of the University. A common question for many remains – why isn’t this history incorporated more fully on the official University tour or BAMA Bound? Now, I encounter students in my courses who had taken the tour previously. This allows me to have different types of conversations on the University history place in the larger context of antebellum America.

BWR: We would argue that your tours work with archived material to create not only an historical text but also activist art. Do you see your walking tours as art? Why or why not?

HG: I can see the tours as art. The tours disrupt the current landscape by inserting voices who have been historically silenced. By relating the history as well as the names of specific enslaved men, women, and children, the typical soundscapes of the University are disrupted, transformed, and remade. By walking the campus in all type of weather, tour attendees are immersed in the conditions in which enslaved people labored. Each tour is definitely a performance.

BWR: As an historian, how do you create a sense of permanence/preservation of memory in a landscape and a culture like the university’s that is always changing?

HG: This is the beauty of the campus. We have historic buildings next to newer ones surrounding a historic greenspace. The footprint has remained pretty constant until more recent campus history. We also have rich archival sources from key moments in the campus history that give a snapshot of the people, buildings and spaces. Since my research remains ongoing, I am able to weave in the history of physical space and its evolution from a campus built and maintained by enslaved people to the Civil Rights Movement to the present. As a scholar of pre-1920 American history, I am comfortable with setting the historical context for audiences whether in my classroom, Hallowed Grounds tour, and/or scholarship.

BWR: You discuss in your research African-Americans’ construction of counter-memory of the Civil War. How do you see your Hallowed Grounds tour engaging with this?

HG: Yes, I see my work engaging with this long history of African Americans constructing and employing a counter Civil War memory. Oral tradition, collection habits, and commemorative traditions of families and communities have allowed for African Americans to actively remember when the nation wanted to purposefully forget black military service, impressment of enslaved laborers, the African American homefront, and ultimately slavery’s destruction. They resisted their erasure through a counter Civil War memory. These tours continue the oral tradition forged by these earlier African Americans. I combine this oral tradition with academic training and a commitment to recover the experiences and voices of those historical marginalized for both academic and general audiences. Saying the names of Neal, Crawford and Gabe at the Little Round House/Guard House or the names of Ben and Moses at the Gorgas House acknowledges their humanity and place in the campus history. These individuals are no longer nameless chattel property but become real people whose lives were shaped by the campus. In this regard, the Hallowed Grounds tour fully engages with this tradition.

BWR: What advice do you have for other artists and activists wanting to complete similar projects in their communities?

HG: Know your talents and think about ways to amplify them for wider audiences. Listen to the communities on their stories, needs, and abilities before launching into a project. Be willing to be humble, if necessary. Always remember that your efforts will be worthwhile and transformative.