A project in
partnership with the
University of Idaho's
In 2020, a then new University of Idaho theater arts graduate student, KT Turner said of her experience in Moscow, "I live in a constant state of terror. I exist in this town, my guard constantly raised." This story sent shock waves through our small college town as many of its citizens believed that this town and county which generally votes democratic is one of the most welcoming and diverse towns in the Gem state. However, few of its white citizens are familiar with its history as a probable sundown town and the sometimes-antagonistic relationship between law enforcement and its Black citizens. In one closed door meeting of twelve Black faculty and staff in 2020 each person mentioned how they or one of their family members had experienced negative interactions with members of local law enforcement. These stories and experiences often go unshared or underreported for multiple reasons according to these individuals, including but not limited to lack of critical mass (population is less than 1.2% of the town), many are immigrants who are here for work and school, and fear of nothing being done. Given that there is a local religious organization headquartered in this town whose leader once stated that:
“Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.” Southern Slavery as it was (Doug Wilson & Steve Wilkins, Canon Press, 1996)
Moscow is located 89 miles south of Hayden Lake, a town with a troubling history of being a headquarters to the Aryan Nation. And the University of Idaho has a history of incidents of racial harassment and anti-Blackness. This creates the environment where Black people rarely stay in the town long term.
However, there are members of the Moscow community who are engaging in intentional efforts to create an environment that shows that they care about Black citizens and want them to thrive and flourish. The Black Flourishing in Moscow project led by the UI Black Research Institute for Flourishing and Thriving is an initiative that seeks to test out strategies and practices that would lead to fostering an inclusive environment for Moscow’s Black citizens. The Humanities disciplinary grounding this project draws from the scholarship of Black Studies and Dr. Molefi Kete Asante’s theory of Afrocentricity. This theory asserts that Black history and progress should be viewed and approached through lenses that center people of African descent. Therefore, this project centers the voices, needs, and aspirations of Black people.
The project includes the following elements: the development of the history of Blacks in the city of Moscow, a series of activities led by and designed by the members of the University of Idaho’s Black Student Union, survey of the needs of Black citizens in Moscow, and racial sensitivity and awareness training for local businesses and community members.
Outcomes: This project will enable the development of the history of Blacks in the city of Moscow exhibit and article, a series of activities led by and designed by the members of the University of Idaho’s Black Student Union with cooperating support from local community organizations and entities, a survey of the needs of Black citizens in Moscow, and racial awareness training for local businesses and citizens.
Activities in 2024 include:
Begin development of a Historical Summary of the Contributions and Experiences of Blacks in Moscow and Latah County. This work will be conducted by the project manager in partnership with the Latah County Historical Society. This work will be completed by March and available on the Latah County Historical Society website.
Moscow Chamber of Commerce + Visitor Center January Luncheon: At this hour-long event we will introduce the local business community to the Black Flourishing in Moscow Project and share the importance of creating a welcoming environment for Black citizens. We will also invite a guest speaker to discuss ways in which local businesses can lead in these efforts. A brochure along with a banner display will be produced for the event outlining recommendations related to facilitating this work.
We will host a Black cultural event at Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre introducing the Black Flourishing in Moscow Project and soliciting survey responses of Black citizens in Moscow sharing the importance of creating a welcoming environment for Black citizens. The survey will be administered in person with an opportunity for citizens to engage in an online option if they choose. The event will be facilitated by the University of Idaho’s Black Student Union. The members of their organization will develop the programming for this event.
We will facilitate an informal cultural event at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre that will focus on the ways in which Black citizens can flourish in Moscow. This will be a space where Black citizens are able to speak amongst themselves regarding ways that the university and community can enhance their inclusion efforts. Data collected during the February event will be used as a starting point for discussion. We see this event as the culmination of the first phase of our work to advance the efforts to ensure that Black citizens feel safe, valued, heard, and welcomed.
Organization & Partners: Key partners include the Moscow Chamber of Commerce + Visitor Center (MCOC+VC), Moscow Human Rights Commission, Latah County Human Rights Taskforce, Latah County Historical Society, the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre, and the University of Idaho’s Black History Research Lab and Black Student Union.
Community Impact: The Black Flourishing project will impact the future of Moscow by creating a sustainable model of engagement and a framework that helps to integrate cultural sensitivity particularly for Blacks, but also to minoritized populations more broadly. Because our town is overwhelmingly white and there is no mass mobilization of complaints by racially and ethnically minoritized populations, it may be assumed that Moscow has no issues with race. This project will help the leaders in our town to understand the realities of Black populations and develop the tools to creatively ensure that Black people’s history and contributions are celebrated, and they feel safe, welcomed, and valued more fully.
Determining Impact: We will determine the success and impact of the project by surveying Black citizens to see if they believe that Moscow is becoming more inclusive. We also will gather survey data from community business leaders, etc. regarding whether they have implemented strategies in their business practices to be more inclusive of Black people and culture. Additionally, we will gather the Black history of the city and document it. Ensuring that we preserve the experiences of Black people and educate the broader community on the contributions and the experiences of our citizens.
PI: Sydney Freeman, Jr., Professor at the University of Idaho (Affiliated faculty within the Department of History and Africana Studies program. Dr. Freeman is Lay Public Historian and Exhibit Curator. He recently earned the distinguished title of Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS) from the United Kingdom’s foremost professional association of historians and history.
Project Manager: Agyemang Amofa Prempeh is a PhD student in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences at the University of Idaho and Project Manager in the University of Idaho’s Black Research Institute for Flourishing and Thriving (BRIFT).
Historian: Hayley Noble, Executive Director of Latah County Historical Society holds a bachelor’s and master’s in public history and has particular expertise in curating exhibits, researching public inquiries, and creating social media content.