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Mellon Foundation Supports Inheritance Baltimore Project

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a $4.4 million grant to a team of scholars at the Krieger School that is investigating the history of racism in higher education and building a network to preserve Baltimore’s Black history, culture, and arts. 

The project, Inheritance Baltimore: Humanities and Arts Education for Black Liberation, will pioneer methods of instruction, research, preservation, and doctoral education and work with Black institutions to bring the experiences of Baltimore’s Black community to the fore and combat institutional racism.  

The project is a collaboration between Johns Hopkins’ Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship; the Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts, which is affiliated with the Center for Africana Studies; and the Sheridan Libraries and University Museums.  

Inheritance Baltimore will focus on three goals: 

  • Research and chronicle the history of the Black community in Baltimore and of the impact of racism on higher education and at Johns Hopkins in order to fill in missing or excluded elements in historical records. 
  • Expand the Baltimore Africana Archives Initiative to offer Johns Hopkins scholars opportunities to take their research to the city’s Black communities and to preserve archives in jeopardy of being lost. 
  • Develop a doctoral curriculum that incorporates city residents who are experts in local history to advance Black freedom education already underway in the city, and to develop a pipeline of Johns Hopkins PhD students and future faculty who are trained to combat racism in American institutions, including at universities. 

Inheritance Baltimore aims to elevate the role of the humanities in the continued revitalization of Baltimore and to advance research and record-keeping in support of reparations.  

“We want to cultivate the historical legacy of Black people in the city and in this region where so many African American archives are either incomplete or are being actively discarded,” says Lawrence Jackson, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of English and History.  

Jackson founded and co-directs the Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts with Kali-Ahset Amen, an assistant research professor of sociology. The Mellon grant will be used to host researchers, artists, archivists, and local elders for events with community groups—especially with Black churches that have been the repository for critical historical records.  

Archiving efforts will include a portable digitization lab that can be transported to participating community groups.

The Mellon grant was awarded as part of its $72 million Just Futures Initiative, which seeks to improve equitable access to higher education, champions efforts to improve diversity among professors, and supports new research methods to chronicle untold histories of the nation’s racist past. 

Johns Hopkins University President  Ronald Daniels  applauded the vision of Inheritance Baltimore and its Mellon Foundation grant. 

“The interdisciplinary project provides another important opportunity and framework to research and address the racism that continues to plague our institutions, our communities, and our nation, says Daniels. Nathan D. Connolly, Herbert Baxter Adams Associate Professor of History, and Assistant Research Scientist Stuart Schrader say the project also supports doctoral and faculty research on the racial history of the disciplines.  

“Over the last century, Johns Hopkins University, like most elite U.S. institutions, rarely stood openly against segregation and racism, especially racism within its academic units,” Connolly says. “Black people, as a result, were forced to educate themselves in research and narrative methods that often ran parallel to and separate from what was going on in the ivory tower,” he says.