Thursday, September 1, 2016
Georgetown University will give preference in admissions to the descendants of slaves owned by the Maryland Jesuits as part of its effort to atone for profiting from the sale of enslaved people, the president of the prominent Jesuit university in Washington announced Thursday.
University President John DeGioia made the announcement as he released the recommendations of a school committee that was created last year to study Georgetown’s ties to slavery. The university also plans to establish an institute for the study of slavery, and to create a public memorial honoring slaves from whom Georgetown benefited.
“We must acknowledge that Georgetown University participated in the institution of slavery,” DeGioia said at a campus gathering on Thursday. “There were slaves here on this hilltop until emancipation in 1862.”
In 1838, two priests who served as president of the university orchestrated the sale of 272 men, women and children for $115,000, or roughly $3.3 million in today’s dollars, to pay off debts at the school. The slaves were sent from Jesuit plantations in Maryland to Louisiana, “where they labored under dreadful conditions,” and families were broken up, according to a report issued by the school committee.
The transaction was one of the most thoroughly documented large sales of enslaved people in history, and the names of many of the people sold are included in bills of sale, a transport manifest and other documents. Genealogical research conducted by Georgetown and other organizations, including The New York Times, has identified many living descendants of the slaves.
The university will reach out to those descendants and recruit them to the university, and they will have the same advantage in admissions that’s given to people whose parents or grandparents attended Georgetown, DeGioia said. Universities around the United States have taken various attempts to atone for their participation in slavery, but several historians said the establishment of an admissions preference is unprecedented.
Georgetown also will create a memorial to the slaves whose sale benefited the university, and it will establish an Institute for the Study of Slavery and its Legacies to support continued research into the history of slavery and engagement with descendants.