Georgetown University To Make Amends For Slavery History

The moves are aimed at acknowledging and encouraging dialogue about the university’s ties to slavery.
Georgetown University freshman, Darryl Robinson, 19, poses for a photograph on campus on Wednesday March 28, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Georgetown University freshman, Darryl Robinson, 19, poses for a photograph on campus on Wednesday March 28, 2012 in Washington, DC.
The Washington Post via Getty Images

WASHINGTON, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Georgetown University will apologize on Thursday for its historical links to slavery, saying it would give an admissions edge to descendants of slaves whose sale in the 19th century helped pay off the U.S. school’s debts.

The Washington-based university, run by the Roman Catholic Jesuit order, will create an institute to study the history of slavery at the school. It will also rename two buildings that had honored presidents who oversaw the 1838 sale of the 272 slaves, who had worked on church-affiliated plantations in Maryland.

“The most appropriate ways for us to redress the participation of our predecessors in the institution of slavery is to address the manifestations of the legacy of slavery in our time,” Georgetown President John DeGioia said in a statement.

He is scheduled to apologize for Georgetown’s slavery links in an address later on Thursday.

The school’s steps go further than those taken by other U.S. universities that are confronting their past association with slavery, including Harvard, Brown, Princeton and the University of North Carolina.

But some criticized as inadequate the decision to give the descendants of the sold slaves the same admissions preference as the children of faculty, staff and alumni.

“We remain hopeful that we can forge a relationship with Georgetown that will lead to ‘real’ atonement,” Karran Harper Royal, an organizer of a group of descendants, said in an email.

She added that the school should have offered scholarships to descendants of the slaves and included them on a panel that made the recommendations.

The steps follow recommendations by a committee DeGioia appointed in September 2015 on how to recognize Georgetown’s links to slavery.

The 18,000-student university will also create a memorial for slaves whose work benefited the school, including those sold to plantations in Louisiana to pay off Georgetown’s debts.

Descendants of the slaves will be included in a group advising on the memorial.

The school will rename its Freedom Hall for Isaac, one of the sold slaves, and Remembrance Hall for Anne Marie Becraft, a black educator. The buildings previously had been named for presidents who oversaw the 1838 mass sale.

Students at dozens of U.S. universities staged protests last fall over the legacy of racism on campus. The protests led to the resignation of the president of the University of Missouri and prompted many schools to review their diversity commitments.

“Georgetown, being a Catholic institution, really can’t escape the moral problem of that history, because it’s come to challenge its Catholic identity,” said Craig Stephen Wilder, a history professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and James Dalgleish)

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