profited from slavery and played a role in the enslavement of Black
people. And it is time that they acknowledge this legacy and make
amends for the harm they caused. Harvard
is the latest institution of higher education to address its role in
slavery. The Ivy League university—with a massive
on its legacy of slavery and announced a $100 million
fund to provide redress.
its findings, Harvard faculty, staff and leaders owned at least 70
people between the school’s founding in 1636 and 1783, when
slavery was abolished in Massachusetts. These individuals had names
such as Cicely, Titus, Venus, Violet, Juba, Dorcas, Guinea, Pompey,
Hope and Bilhah, while others were known as “The Moor,”
“The Spaniard,” “unnamed Negro boy,” “Young
Jerry” and “the Negar.” Some of these enslaved
people lived and worked on the Harvard campus and tended to the needs
of Harvard presidents, faculty and students.
connections to multiple donors, the University had extensive
financial ties to, and profited from, slavery during the 17th, 18th,
and 19th centuries,” the report says. “These donors
helped the University build a national reputation, hire faculty,
support students, grow its collections, expand its physical
footprint, and develop its infrastructure.” Even today, Harvard
honors benefactors with ties to slavery through buildings and
also noted that some of its professors embraced eugenics, its museum
has the remains of African and Indigenous people, and the legacy of
slavery, segregation and discrimination lasted on campus well into
the 20th century.
a Harvard alum, I applaud the decision, which is socially
responsible, if not a form of enlightened self-interest for the
university. Colleges and universities produce the future leaders and
thinkers, help to shape the direction of society, and have a great
impact on the country. And while many of these institutions have
benefited from Black labor and profited from the exploitation of
their bodies, many of these universities were not originally intended
for Black people—HBCUs notwithstanding, of course.
where I received my law degree, found that while the university never
owned slaves, at least 75 of its earliest trustees owned enslaved
people, and faculty members and alumni were slaveholders, made Black
folks three-fifths of a person in the U.S. Constitution, supported
the Confederacy and promoted racial pseudoscience. Benjamin Franklin,
Penn’s founder, owned slaves before becoming an abolitionist in
his later years.
where I studied international human rights law, has established a
scholarship program for Caribbean students. One of Oxford’s
colleges was funded by a British sugar plantation baron and has a
library named after him, while another college built a statue in
honor of the colonizer Cecil Rhodes, who committed genocide against
the people of southern Africa.
where I teach journalism and media studies, acknowledged that it was
founded by slaveholders and built by enslaved people of African
descent. Rutgers has renamed campus buildings, including an apartment
building that was renamed in honor of the abolitionist and author
who was owned by Rutgers’ first president.
universities have acted and made overtures to atone for their
shameful past. For example, students at
in Providence, R.I., voted overwhelmingly to have the school pay
reparations to the descendants of Black people owned by Brown
founders and former leaders.
Jesuit Catholic institution that sold 272 enslaved people in 1838 to
stay financially afloat—pledged $100 million for a
and reconciliation” effort
for the descendants of the enslaved.
of William and Mary
formed a slavery reconciliation project with courses, research and
symposiums, and the University of Virginia created a
consortium of universities
studying slavery after it released a report on its own involvement in
the United Kingdom, Glasgow
pledged £20 million ($24.7 million) for restorative justice to
gains from slavery.
formed a commission to study its ties to the trans-Atlantic slave
trade, and the role of colonial-era racism in its scholarship. And
crest features the slave trader
and which depended on the slave trade for 85 percent of its
wealth—has come clean on its past.
Harvard and others announce their coming-to-Jesus moment on the sins
of the past, we should not view this as the end of the story, but
only the beginning. Hopefully, this will inspire governments,
corporations and others to stand up, wake up and do right by the
descendants of the enslaved.
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