Georgetown University Takes Steps to Makeup for Slave Owning Past

Georgetown-University-fights-slave-scandal-900x440
Georgetown-University-fights-slave-scandal-900x440

Georgetown University in Washington came under fire last fall when students demanded justice for the slaves the school sold in an 1838 sale that totaled around $3.3 million in today’s dollars.

The historic university is now working hard to right their past wrongs, and offering “reparations” of some sort to the descendants of the 272 slaves that were sold over two centuries ago.

The ship manifest of the Katharine Jackson, available in full at the Georgetown Slavery archive, listed the name, sex, age and height of each slave transported to New Orleans in the fall of 1838. It showed that the cargo included dozens of children, among them infants as young as 2 months old. Credit Ancestry

Via: NYTimes

Nearly two centuries after Georgetown University profited from the sale of 272 slaves, it will embark on a series of steps to atone for the past, including awarding preferential status in the admissions process to descendants of the enslaved, officials said on Wednesday.

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Georgetown’s president, John J. DeGioia, who will discuss the measures in a speech on Thursday afternoon, also plans to offer a formal apology, create an institute for the study of slavery and erect a public memorial to the slaves whose labor benefited the institution, including those who were sold in 1838 to help keep the university afloat.

In addition, two campus buildings will be renamed — one for an enslaved African-American man and the other for an African-American educator who belonged to a Catholic religious order.

The Rev. Thomas F. Mulledy, president of Georgetown from 1829 to 1838, and again from 1845 to 1848, arranged the sale. Credit Georgetown University Archives

So far, Mr. DeGioia’s plan does not include a provision for offering scholarships to descendants, a possibility that was raised by a university committee whose recommendations were released on Thursday morning. The committee, however, stopped short of calling on the university to provide such financial assistance, as well as admissions preference.

Mr. DeGioa’s decision to offer an advantage in admissions to descendants, similar to that offered to the children and grandchildren of alumni, is unprecedented, historians say. The preference will be offered to the descendants of all the slaves whose labor benefited Georgetown, not just the men, women and children sold in 1838.

The bill of sale was dated June 19, 1838, and stated: “Thomas F. Mulledy sells to Jesse Beatty and Henry Johnson two hundred and seventy two negroes, to wit.” It outlined a payment plan, with discounts if the slaves turned out to be more infirm than described. Credit Maryland Province Archives at Lauinger Library at Georgetown University

More than a dozen universities — including Brown, Harvard and theUniversity of Virginia have publicly recognized their ties to slavery and the slave trade. But Craig Steven Wilder and Alfred L. Brophy, two historians who have studied universities and slavery, said they knew of none that had offered preferential status in admissions to the descendants of slaves.

Professor Wilder, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Mr. DeGioia’s plans to address Georgetown’s history go beyond any initiatives enacted by a university in the past 10 years.

“It goes farther than just about any institution,” he said. “I think it’s to Georgetown’s credit. It’s taking steps that a lot of universities have been reluctant to take.”

But whether the initiatives result in meaningful change remains to be seen, he said. Professor Wilder cautioned that the significance of the preferential status in admissions would rest heavily on the degree to which Georgetown invested in outreach to descendants, including identifying them, making sure they are aware of the benefit’s existence and actively recruiting them to the university.

Richard Cellini, the chief executive of a technology company and a Georgetown alumnus, hired eight genealogists to track down the slaves and their descendants. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

“The question of how effective or meaningful this is going to be will only be answered over time,” Professor Wilder said.

Mr. DeGioia’s plan, which builds on the recommendations of the committee that he convened last year, represents the university’s first systematic effort to address its roots in slavery. Georgetown, which was founded and run by Jesuit priests in 1789, relied on the Jesuit plantations in Maryland — and the sale of produce and slaves — to finance its operations.

The 1838 sale, worth about $3.3 million in today’s dollars, was organized by two of Georgetown’s early presidents, both Jesuits. A portion of the profit, about $500,000, was used to help pay off Georgetown’s debts at a time when the college was struggling financially. The slaves were uprooted from the Maryland plantations and shipped to estates in Louisiana.

Mr. DeGioia said he planned to apologize for the wrongs of the past “within the framework of the Catholic tradition,” by offering what he described as a Mass of reconciliation in partnership with the Jesuit leadership in the United States and the Archdiocese of Washington.

NYTimes
Patricia Bayonne-Johnson, a descendant of another of the slaves sold by the Jesuits, is the president of the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society in Spokane, Wash., which is helping to track the slaves and their families. Credit Rajah Bose for The New York Times

“We know we’ve got work to do, and we’re going to take those steps to do so,” Mr. DeGioia said in an interview on Wednesday.

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