Colleges confront their links to slavery and wrestle with how to atone for past sins

March 1, 2021

Colleges and universities across the U.S. have been taking a hard look at their ties to slavery.

This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. Back in 2006, Brown University published a report showing that the university – from its construction to its endowment – participated in and benefited from the slave trade and slavery.

And since then, several other colleges and universities have disclosed their ties to the use of slave labor.

For instance, Johns Hopkins University – whose namesake and founder has historically been portrayed as an abolitionist – reported in December 2020 that its founder actually employed four enslaved individuals in his Baltimore household.

At the University of Mississippi, a slavery research group has found that at least 11 enslaved people labored on the campus.

At Georgetown University, officials disclosed in 2016 that one of its presidents – Thomas Mulledy – sold 272 enslaved men, women and children in 1838 to save the university from bankruptcy. The revelation sparked an effort to track down descendants of the people and to atone by offering preferential admission – but not scholarships – for them to study at Georgetown.

Georgetown University has since committed to raising $400,000 a year for reparations to help the living descendants of enslaved people sold by the school’s president in 1838. But some students have criticized the plan as not going far enough. Meanwhile, implementation has apparently stalled.

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