Berkeley Talks: Denise Herd and Waldo Martin on Berkeley’s ‘400 Years’ initiative

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Waldo Martin and Denise Herd talking with microphones

Professors Waldo Martin and Denise Herd discuss UC Berkeley’s yearlong initiative, 400 Years of Resistance to Slavery and Injustice, on the podcast Who Belongs? by the Othering and Belonging Institute. (UC Berkeley photo by Marc Abizeid)

In this episode of Who Belongs?, a podcast by UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, Berkeley professors Denise Herd and Waldo Martin discuss 400 Years of Resistance to Slavery and Injustice, a yearlong initiative that marks the 400th anniversary of the forced arrival of enslaved Africans in the English colonies.

“The commemoration of the 400th anniversary of slavery — it’s part of a national initiative to recognize this long and really, really important time in our history,” says Herd, a professor in the School of Public Health and associate director of the Othering and Belonging Institute who is leading the campus initiative. “… I think a strong impetus for bringing it here was that it resonates with the goals of really understanding social inequality and addressing social inequality.”

Herd, who was born and raised in Chicago, shares how she grew up hearing stories from her family about what it was like growing up in the South. “There was a lot of poverty,” she says. “I didn’t set foot in the South until I was way past grown. I think my parents wanted to protect us from some of the experiences they’d had in the South.”

As a professor of U.S. history, Martin says he’s especially interested in “how people struggle — how people persevere, transcend, how they make it, how they get over.” Martin, who grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, describes himself as a “child of late Jim Crow.”

“The world that I grew up in was dismantled because black people fought and demanded that Jim Crow be dismantled,” says Martin, an organizer the 400 Years initiative. “If we want a better world, we have to fight and organize for it. I don’t expect the 1% to do it. I don’t expect the billionaires to do it. I don’t expect the presidents and the government to do it. I expect the people who want the change to do it — they have to organize and fight for it, and that’s the only way it’s going to happen.”

The initiative, which kicked off with a day-long symposium in August 2019, includes weekly events with scholars, activists and artists from around the country. Herd says that she will consider the initiative a success if it stimulates conversations and provides direction for where we go from here to uplift the African American population.

Listen to related Berkeley Talks episodes:

See all Berkeley News stories related to the 400 Years initiative.

Learn more about 400 Years of Resistance to Slavery and Injustice on the Othering and Belonging Institute’s website.