Reckoning with Racial Violence and Injustice

Public Statement from Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library

June 1, 2020

Today we are in the midst of a reckoning — a reckoning around racial injustice and the long history of violence against people of color in our city and in our country. This moment could not be more serious. It has consequences for who we are as people, and for what the Folger is as a public institution.
We face many challenges to our shared humanity now, including a global pandemic. But none is as urgent as the need to see and name the problem of violence against people of color in the United States. Because the Folger presents the human experience in all of its complexity and aspiration, we must be part of undoing that legacy of hurt, racial injustice, and pain. Calling out completely unacceptable violence against African Americans, including the killing of George Floyd, is only part of what we must do. It is a start.

But we must also address this legacy in our thinking and actions. In 1932, the Folger opened its doors in a world where some saw segregation as normal and desirable. We have come a long way in 88 years, yet there is work still to be done. The Folger Shakespeare Library is in the process of becoming an even more public institution, which means telling the stories of all people in a setting of abundant welcome.

If we aspire to be that place of abundant welcome – that is, a truly inclusive institution – we must reckon with the forces that have eroded trust between public cultural institutions and communities of color. We can address that trust gap by demonstrating how our collections, programs, and research push back on the legacy of racism that led to this latest crisis. We must also acknowledge, in words and actions, that the fight against racial injustice is essential to what we do as an institution presenting the arts and humanities to the public.