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Marquette University’s Freedom Project

The Civil War assignment

In 1864, 15-year-old Thomas Robinson Welburn enlisted in one of the first African-American infantry regiments in the Union Army.

He served as a substitute soldier and musician in Company H of the Indiana Infantry’s 28th regiment U.S. Colored Troops, filling in for soldiers lost in the famous Battle of the Crater at the Siege of Petersburg, Va.

Welburn was the great-grandfather of Dr. William Welburn, Marquette associate provost for diversity and inclusion.

“We heard about this as children but had to grow up to appreciate that, just one year after President (Abraham) Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Thomas and his male siblings joined African-Americans across the country by fighting for the cause of freedom, the freedom we cherish today,” William Welburn says.

That fight for freedom is being commemorated now across the country on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The Freedom Project at Marquette offers opportunities to learn about this history that range from exhibits at the Haggerty Museum of Art to lectures by nationally known speakers exploring topics of race, gender, justice and freedom in all its forms.

Dr. James Marten, professor and chair of the Department of History and coordinator of the Freedom Project, asked students in his class on the Civil War era to write essays about a “type of freedom that resonates today and would have resonated with Civil War-era Americans.”

Most students wrote about the freedoms of speech and the press. A few tackled women’s rights — writing about a freedom challenged during the war that is enjoyed in modern America. One student correlated Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus to the Patriot Act. Still another wrote about the freedom of assembly and the Occupy movements that swept this country after the 2011 Arab Spring.

“Studying the past is less about learning from it and more about discovering those things that connect us to it,” says Marten. “It’s not a model for behavior — the Civil War era to our era — but by understanding those connections, we gain a deeper understanding of our own experiences.” — AB

A year-long commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War is exploring the many meanings of emancipation and freedom in the United States and beyond.

Upcoming Freedom Project campus events include public lectures, art exhibitions, theatrical performances and readings about the many ways people struggle for freedom.

January 25 through 26

Can I Sing for You Brother? by Stephen Scott Wormley, Comm ’10

As his senior capstone, Wormley performed this one-man musical chronicling the story of an African-American through Negro Spirit-uals. He returns to perform the musical for Marquette audiences.

January 28 through May 11

The School Choice Movement Exhibition

Should parents be given public funds to send their children to private or parochial schools? This exhibit at Raynor Memorial Libraries depicts the politically charged modern School Choice movement, with particular attention paid to Milwaukee, a key battleground in the School Choice struggle.

February 21 through March 3

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

In Ibsen’s controversial classic, Nora Helmer, a doting banker’s wife centers her life around the needs of her husband and three children. Her illusions of a perfect life are shattered when she goes against societal norms to escape from her marital confines.

March 21

Challenging freedom: The FBI, U.S. intelligence services, and individual freedoms in modern America

A timely discussion featuring historians Dr. Athan Theoharis, Marquette emeritus professor; Dr. Ken O’Reilly, Grad ’81, emeritus professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage now teaching at MATC; Dr. Robert Donnelly, Grad ’04, associate professor at Gonzaga University; and Dr. Aaron Stockham, Grad ’04, teacher at Waterford School in Salt Lake City, Utah.

April 18 through 28

Urinetown: The Musical

Based on the book by Greg Kotis, this comedy satirizes the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement and municipal politics. Music by Mark Hollmann; lyrics by Kotis and Hollmann.

April 22

Casper Lecture | Dr. Rebecca J. Scott

“She had always enjoyed her freedom: Re-enslavement and the law in the era of the Haitian revolution”

Scott is the Charles Gibson Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of Law at the University of Michigan and author of Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor, 1860-1899; Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery; and Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation.


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