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Georgetown University to Apologize for Participation in Slavery

Georgetown University, founded by Jesuits in 1789, is one of the oldest universities in the United States and like most white Americans that had plantations at that time, it owned black slaves to carry out menial labor.

Now University President John DeGioia wants to make an official apology in the form of a “reconciliation in which we will seek forgiveness for our participation in the institution of slavery.” He also promised to give an edge in admissions to slaves’ descendants, open a new institute for the study of slavery, and build a memorial honoring slaves whose work benefited the university. 

Two buildings named after the two former presidents of Georgetown who organized the 1838 slave sale will also be renamed after a 65-year-old man who was the first slave named on a sale document and a woman who opened a school for black girls in the Georgetown neighborhood in the 1820s.

DeGioiao met with descendants of the slaves over the summer in several cities of Louisiana and in Spokane, Washington, admitting that the university had denied this truth all these years.

The reconciliatory moves are the outcome of a year-long, 16-member working group at Georgetown which included students, faculty, staff and alumni. 

The university wants to atone for profiting from the sale of 272 slaves in 1838 who worked on Jesuit plantations in nearby Maryland and were sold to finance the university’s operations. The sale was worth about $3.3 million in today’s dollars. All the earliest buildings on campus were likely built by slave labor.
Other top American universities — including Brown, Columbia and Harvard — have also publicly recognized their own ties to the slave trade.
We wonder at the university for trying to redress and atone for social institutions going back centuries that were widely accepted and practiced all over the world. Blacks themselves were active in the slave trade and sold other Africans as slaves. The slave trade was very brisk in Muslim lands, and Russia also had a whole class of serfs who they also freed in 1865 — but none of them would dream of compensating their slaves’ descendants today.

We would suggest that rather than compensate the slaves’ descendants by easier admissions, a better idea might be to offer to ship them back to the countries that their ancestors came from, and thereby rectify the original mistake. Somehow we don’t think there will be any takers.


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