In 1838 Georgetown University sold 272 men, women, and children owned by the Jesuit priests, to Louisiana to help secure the Catholic University’s future. Today, as The New York Times explains, “with racial protests roiling college campuses an unusual collection of Georgetown professors, students, alumni and genealogists is trying to find out what happened to those 272 men, women and children. And they are confronting a particularly wrenching question: What, if anything, is owed to the descendants of slaves who were sold to help ensure the college’s survival?”
Georgetown is only one in a long list of universities built and sustained by slave labor as M.I.T. historian and Lapidus Center Advisor Craig S. Wilder revealed in 2013 in Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. In addition to exploiting the enslaved population universities, he stressed, also played a crucial role “in perpetuating slavery and the slave trade. And that’s where you get to race science. That’s where race science becomes critical, because it’s precisely on campus that the ideas that come to defend slavery in the 19th century get refined. They get their intellectual legitimacy on campus. They get their scientific sort of veneer on campus. And they get their moral credentialing on campus.”
Today, some institutions
of higher learning are transforming cities by expanding their real estate holdings, spearheading gentrification, and offering low-wage labor to inner-city residents.
For more on all these topics, watch an illuminating conversation between Craig S. Wilder and Davarian Baldwin.
For more on Georgetown and slavery, see Georgetown Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation