Monday, September 05, 2016

FACING HISTORY - Georgetown University

"Georgetown University tries to make amends for profiting from slavery" PBS NewsHour 9/1/2016


SUMMARY:  Georgetown University is taking an unprecedented step to respond to and apologize for its ties to slavery.  The university will give special preference to applicants who are descendants of Georgetown's slaves, plans to rename a building in honor of one of the slaves and will create an institute to study slavery.  For greater context, Hari Sreenivasan speaks with the MIT's Craig Steven Wilder.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  In recent years, a number of prestigious colleges and universities have had to acknowledge their past ties and history to slavery in the U.S.

Today, Georgetown University became the latest to say it will apologize for its past and take new steps.  More than 200 years ago, the original Georgetown College operated plantations in Maryland that worked with slave labor.  Then, in 1838, facing deep debt, a pair of priests who each served as president of Georgetown sold 272 people to help pay the bills.  The slaves were sent to plantations in Louisiana.

To help atone for its past, the university announced it would give a special preference in admissions to applicants who are descendants of Georgetown's slaves.  It's also renaming a building in honor of one of the slaves, erecting a public memorial, and creating an institute to study slavery and its legacy.

University president John DeGioia spoke at a news conference today.

JOHN DEGIOIA, President, Georgetown University:  So many were surprised, even shocked, by the revelation of Jesuit slave-holding and the benefit we received from the 1830 sale.

As a community and as individuals, we cannot do our best work if we refuse to take ownership of such a critical part of our history.  We must acknowledge it.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  For a closer look at this, I'm joined from New York by Craig Steven Wilder.  He's a professor of American history at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of “Ebony and Ivy:  Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities.”

Mr.  Wilder, put this in context for us.  How crucial was this transaction of people to keep Georgetown alive?

CRAIG STEVEN WILDER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology:  You know, in 1838, Georgetown sold — the president of Georgetown helped negotiate the sale of about 272 people to Louisiana.

And from what we understand, about 15 to 20 percent of the money, the proceeds, actually was used to pay down Georgetown's debts.  And so I think it's actually quite crucial to the continued survival of the university.

This is about the time that the university imposed tuition for the first time.  And so it was helping to meet a number of financial needs.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  What about your thoughts on the university's actions today?

CRAIG STEVEN WILDER:  I thought that the report was thorough and quite thoughtful, but the real meaning of the report — I'm cautiously optimistic — I think the real meaning of the report will get revealed over the next several years and decades, as we see Georgetown implement these promises.

And it will depend upon how fully those get institutionalized on the campus, and so that we can actually see them really get achieved.

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