The Commonwealth Project

The Challenge

The city of St. Louis presents the challenge of the present moment in the history of the United States in extremis. By virtually any standard measure the city is a byword for urban decay. Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, the population of the city declined by almost two-thirds; the city today is smaller than it has been at any time since 1870. St. Louis is one of the ten most segregated cities in the United States, and has the highest rate of police shootings (of both armed and unarmed targets) in the United States.

And yet the city of St. Louis also presents a long history of Black genius, resistance, and flourishing. It is the city where W. C. Handy first heard the syncopated rag-time music that took root in the blues. It is the city of Maya Angelou, Miles Davis, and Chuck Berry. Of Ike and Tina Turner. Of Nelly and Chingy. It is also a city that has produced a trenchant critique of the racial aspects of American inequality. The Pan-Africanist radicals Claudine Jones and C. L. R. James both traveled to the city in the 1940s to learn from the example of its Black radicals.  From Hershel Walker in the 1930s and 1940s to Ivory Perry and Percy Green in the 1950s and 1960s down to the Organization for Black Struggle and Hands Up United today, the city has produced a singular and enduring critique of racial segregation and inequality.

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Why Harvard? Why St. Louis?

The two-year residence of the St. Louis artist and activist Tef Poe at the Charles Warren Center during 2016-2017 and at the Hutchins Center during 2017-2018 provided a unique opportunity for a sustained interchange of eyewitness knowledge and academic knowledge about the city of St. Louis. Out of that interchange emerged the idea of the Commonwealth Project. At the most general level, the Project seeks to provide a model of a new way for universities to engage with social problems and frontline actors by fostering genuine partnerships and supporting community-led initiatives. The intellectual and social mission of the Commonwealth Project is to be thoroughly mutual: to bring frontline knowledge into the university and university know-how into the community.


In St. Louis, the Commonwealth Project aims to respond to the combination of economic devastation and human wealth in the city of St. Louis by purchasing several buildings and surrounding lots and transforming them into a hub of artistic expression, community development, and social empowerment. The project combines an interested group of academics with cultural producers, community activists and local politicians to build upon and amplify existing initiatives in the city as well as provide a central locus for the arts and cultural interchange

The Commonwealth Project Board

peggy burns

Peggy Burns

Executive Director for Corporate and Foundation Development and Relations

Peggy Burns joined Harvard in April of 2018 as the Executive Director for Corporate and Foundation Development and Relations, where she is...

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dandoca

Daniel D'Oca

Associate Professor in Practice of Urban Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design
Principal and Co-Founder, Interboro Partners
Daniel D’Oca is Associate Professor in Practice of Urban Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and principal and co-... Read more about Daniel D'Oca
diane davis

Diane Davis

Charles Dyer Norton Professor of Regional Planning and Urbanism at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design
Chair, Department of Urban Planning and Design
St. Louis native Diane E. Davis is Charles Dyer Norton Professor of Regional Planning and Urbanism at Harvard’s Graduate... Read more about Diane Davis
evelynhammonds

Evelyn Hammonds

Chair, Department of the History of Science
Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science
Professor of African and African American Studies

Areas of Research: African & African-American Studies, History of Medicine, Science & Race, Science & Technology Studies, Women &...

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Evelyn B. Higginbotham

Evelyn B. Higginbotham

Chair, Department of History
Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.  She...

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Department of African and African American Studies
12 Quincy St. Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138
p: (617) 495-7828
Vijay Iyer

Vijay Iyer

Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts, Department of Music
Composer and Jazz Pianist

Grammy-nominated composer-pianist Vijay Iyer (pronounced “VID-jay EYE-yer”) was described by Pitchfork as “one of the most interesting...

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georgelipsitz

George Lipsitz

Professor of Black Studies and Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara

George Lipsitz is Professor of Black Studies and Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His publications include A Life In...

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tiyamiles

Tiya Miles

Professor, Department of History
Radcliffe Alumnae Professor, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Tiya Miles is the author of three multiple prize-winning works in the history of early American race relations: Ties That Bind: The Story of... Read more about Tiya Miles
MarcylienaMorgan

Marcyliena Morgan

Professor of African and African American Studies
Founding Director, The Hiphop Archive and Research Institute (HARI) at Harvard University and the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research

Marcyliena Morgan is a Professor in the Department of African and African American Studies and Founding Director of The Hiphop Archive and Research...

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FlaviaPerea

Flavia C. Peréa

Director of the Mindich Program in Engaged Scholarship
Lecturer on Social Studies, Harvard College

Flavia C. Peréa. PhD, MSEd is the inaugural Director of the Mindich Program in Engaged Scholarship and a Lecturer on Social Studies at Harvard College....

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TefPoe

Tef Poe

Rapper, Musician, and Activist
American Democracy Fellow

Kareem Jackson, better known by his stage name Tef Poe (short for Teflon Poetix), is an American rapper, musician, and activist from St. Louis, Missouri...

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Jonathan Walton

Jonathan L. Walton

Plummer Professor of Christian Morals
Pusey Minister, Memorial Church of Harvard University
Professor of Religion and Society, Harvard Divinity School

Jonathan L. Walton is an acclaimed author, social ethicist and religious scholar. He is the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and the Pusey Minister...

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