Saturday, September 10, 2016

Slavery at American Universities

Slave Trader's Business
Atlanta in 1864
Georgetown University made headlines recently when university officials  pledged  "to apologize for its role in the slave trade and offered to give admissions preference to the descendants of those sold for the benefit of the school, one of the most aggressive responses to date among the universities trying to make amends for the horrors of slavery."  The apology is due to the 1838 sale of slaves owned by the university for a price of $115,000. Many of the slaves ended up in Louisiana, “where they labored under dreadful conditions on cotton and sugar plantations.” 

Georgetown joins a growing number of prominent colleges and universities that are examining their connections to slavery in America from Colonial times through the Civil War. The panel’s report explores the relationship between Maryland Jesuits, slavery and the college. The Jesuits established plantations and began using slave labor on them about 1700. Those plantations became an enduring source of financial support for Georgetown, the nation’s first Catholic college. The report notes that through the Civil War “the mood at the college was pro-slavery and ultimately pro-Confederacy.” 

Slaves waiting for sale i
n Richmond about 1853
Preliminary research suggests that there were more slaves on Georgetown’s campus than previously thought, probably about 1 in every 10 people on campus in the early 19th century. Some were brought by students. Some were rented from slave owners.
Mulledy and McSherry organized the sale of 272 slaves to Louisiana businessmen while the former was college president and the latter held the title of superior of the Maryland Province of the Jesuits. The slaves were taken to various plantations in Louisiana. Many were then sold and resold.
The sale was controversial at the time. Jesuit authorities in Rome were initially inclined to support emancipation, the report said, and they imposed several conditions on any sale, including a mandate that slave families should not be divided. That condition and others were not honored.
The relationship between American universities and slavery is explored in Mark Auslander's web site slavery-and-universities. Auslander's site provides an extensive list of resources.
What I found rather amazing/disappointing is the involvement of northern colleges in slavery. Auslander reports information on the following institutions:
  • Amherst (Massachusetts)
  • Brown (Rhode Island)
  • Dartmouth (New Hampshire)
  • Harvard(Massachusetts)
  • Oberlin (Ohio)
  • Yale (Connecticut)
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