By now current research has clearly demonstrated that many of the U.S. Ivy League schools were partially or largely financed in their early history by profits and labor from American slave trading. This includes Brown University (aka, College of Rhode Island), Harvard, Princeton (where the first 8 presidents were slave owners), Columbia, Yale, Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania, and William and Mary. Most recently, news has arrived that Georgetown, the prestigious Catholic university, had to sell nearly three hundred slaves in order to stave off bankruptcy and stay open.
Most of this information was presented in Craig Steven Wilder’s 2012 book, “Ebony and Ivory: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America’s Universities,” but not the Georgetown story. Dr. Wilder, who is chair of the history department at MIT, argues in the book that slavery and profits from slave trading not only enabled many American universities to build and thrive, it was at those universities that the pseudo-scientific theories of racial inferiority were rationalized, publicized and made distinctive parts of American culture. Many of those views we still see and speak of today.
Georgetown University has a particularly interesting story. In 1838, the Jesuits running the college that became Georgetown sold 272 African-American men, women and children from the college’s Maryland plantations to New Orleans sugar plantations to finance the operations of the college. This was a relatively large sale that brought thousands of dollars to the institution, but not unusual in the sense that the Catholic Jesuits were among the largest slaveholders in early America. The Catholic Church here and abroad stayed fully involved in slavery and the slave trade through the Civil War and profits from that involvement were essential to the growth and expansion of the Catholic Church in the U.S.
Recent research has also identified the names of those who were sold in that 272-brood bundle, and some of their living descendants have also been found.
There is a current movement afoot to pressure Georgetown into taking action to adopt some restorative measures, such as establishing a specific scholarship fund for the family of those slave descendants. Nothing has been decided yet on that score.
This research, however, may this year spark the rejuvenation of the moribund reparations movement in the U.S. Besides the Ivy League schools, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emory University, the University of Maryland and the University of Virginia, all had slave owning and slave trading in their pasts.
Investigations into some of the California universities established before the 13th amendment was passed have also recently begun to see if there was a slavery connection. As one distinct difference from the colleges and universities in other parts of the country, slavery in California was illegal by the state constitution beginning in 1850, so any educational institutions in the state which profited from slavery and the slave trade broke the law. That is indeed an interesting situation.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Frid