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Harvard and America's Troubled History

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Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

It's a story most Americans have heard: Smallpox-infected blankets were gifted to local Indigenous people. Men, women, and children. The Indigenous people happened to have been "discovered" on land perceived by some Europeans to be the Promised Land while others who transported themselves across the Atlantic imagined the same land to be a "wilderness." Either way, as far as the uninvited newcomers were concerned, " God of Isreall" was among them. We "shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies." With God's help, John Winthrop continues, "we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world," ( The Dispossessed Garden: Pastoral and History in Southern Literature ).


But Jeffrey Amherst couldn't wait on divine providence. He had a solution to the problem of the indigenous people. Amherst's idea to "inoculate the [Indians] with some blankets," contaminated with smallpox, writes Craig Steven Wilder in Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America's Universities (2013) promised to "'destroy Indian resistance.'" Many of "gifted" contacted smallpox and died. But many went to continue resisting ethnic cleansing. In the second stage of his attack on the indigenous people, Amherst vowed to "'hunt the survivors with English dogs'" and rangers on horses.


Enforcing the nation's ideology of white supremacy, situated Amherst in the pursuit of "'vermin'" to exterminate. This is the man so honored with a university and a college, both with his namesake: the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Amherst College.


Another story recounts the efforts of William Smith who, once he becomes the provost at the College of Philadelphia, writes Wilder, insisted on defending the white community against the "'savage Barbarity.'" Of the indigenous people!

Influenced by the evangelical pastor John Elder in the belief that a white Christian America was the only America possible, Smith actively called for the removal of indigenous people. For Smith, the indigenous people had to be removed if the "'promises of evangelicalism'" were to reap the "'economic benefits'" the Promised Land offered.

The reality of the indigenous people vs the myth of the Promised Land!

Smith, writes Wilder, wrote a song "to teach Indians 'their social status.'" And here's the song:


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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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