Georgetown University has announced plans to atone for its past and the part it played in the slave trade almost two centuries ago, when it sold 272 slaves in order to pay off debts. The University’s President John DeGioia said on Thursday that they will be giving preference in admissions to the descendents of those slaves.
The sale in 1838 was arranged by two of the university’s early presidents and amounted to around $3.3 million in today’s money. Around $500,000 of that was used to help deal with the school’s financial difficulties. The slaves were forced to leave the Maryland plantations and were taken to estates in Louisiana.
President John DeGioia aknowledged the university’s shady dealings, stating: “This community participated in the institution of slavery. This original evil that shaped the early years of the Republic was present here. Our moral agency must be channeled to undo this damage.”
The plan to make up for the wrongs of the past also includes building a memorial on site, as well as an institute to study slavery’s legacy. The university will also rename two campus buildings in honour of the slaves they sold, including a runaway named Issac.
Although around a dozen other universities, including Brown and Harvard, have publicly aknowledged their links to the slave trade, experts say that Georgetown’s recent announcement is one for the history books. Historians Craig Steven Wilder and Alfred L. Brophy, who have both studies universities and their links to slavery, stated that no other university had given perferential status in admissions to the descendants of slaves.
Professor Wilder, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stated: “It goes farther than just about any institution. I think it’s to Georgetown’s credit. It’s taking steps that a lot of universities have been reluctant to take.”
However, some descendants have expressed their disappointment in the announcement, as they believe it is not enough to atone for the past. One of these was Karran Harper Royal, a descendant of slaves sold in 1838 and an organizer for the group. She said that they were hoping that Georgetown would use its $1.45 billion endowment to offer scholarships to descendants, and was also left saddened by the fact she had not been invited to witness Dr. DeGioia’s speech.
“It has to go much farther,” Ms. Harper Royal said. “They’re calling us family. Well, I’m from New Orleans and when we have a gathering, family’s invited.”