Dana Saxon is the founder and executive director of Ancestors unKnown (AU), a non-profit organization in the United States and the Netherlands that focuses on genealogy and ancestry research. In the United States, race is a mirage, a material reality of daily life, an imaginary card and a social fact further complicated by public discourse. Through personalized research initiatives, Saxon equips people with the skills and knowledge to recover their family histories and guides participants to situate that history within larger conversations about race and identity with an enthusiasm about genealogy. The mission of Ancestors unKnown is to introduce people to family history as a personal and scholarly pursuit that offers an empowering counter-narrative for people of color in marginalized communities.
As a Public Humanities Resident, Saxon’s presence on campus brought much-needed visibility to the career achievements of scholars-of-color from liberal arts backgrounds. A graduate of Vassar College with a bachelor’s degree in Africana Studies, Saxon’s personal narrative was an invaluable resource for students who are interdisciplinary majors at Davidson. With community-based approaches, Saxon recasted genealogy as a project that fruitfully unsettles the way people outside the academy think about history and demonstrated how personalized knowledge can help people envision their political futures in the context of contemporary discourse.
Saxon visited Davidson, NC the week of September 26, 2018. Her curricular, community and civic activities with the students, faculty and staff at the college, as well as the broader community of the Town of Davidson, included:
- Two public workshops in Davidson: Genealogy Research and African American Communities. During the residency, Saxon led two public workshops (one morning session and one afternoon session) that specifically focused on the challenges and rewards of African American genealogy.
- A public lecture. “Identity Reparations and the Role of Genealogy”.
- Classroom visits. Saxon visited two additional classes: an Educational Studies course and AFR 301: Critical Thinkers in Africana Studies (Zora Neale Hurston) during her residency.