June 23, 2015
By Stacey Patton
On Thursday morning, when Chad Williams woke up to the news that a white gunman had killed nine black people inside a historic church in Charleston, S.C., he thought he was having a bad dream.
“Once I came to my senses, I had incredible pain,” said Mr. Williams, an associate professor of African and African-American studies at Brandeis University. “It was visceral. I went from shock to sadness to anger.”
Watching the news only compounded his sorrow and frustration. Public conversations about the shooting were generally devoid of the kind of historical knowledge that frames contemporary racial violence and its deep roots.
Two days later Mr. Williams decided that he wouldn’t just sit and stew. He thought about how another historian, Marcia Chatelain, an assistant professor at Georgetown University, had responded to the events in Ferguson, Mo., last August by creating the #FergusonSyllabus hashtag on Twitter. That hashtag spawned conversations about race, violence, and history.
Mr. Williams wondered if he could do the same. He got on his computer to see if someone else had beaten him to the punch. To his surprise, no one had.
“I naïvely expect that someone had created a syllabus, given the way hashtags move like rapid fire on social media,” Mr. Williams said.
So he decided he’d do the work. His project started with a series of tweets.
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