Should the descendants of former Georgetown University slaves be compensated by the institution?
By Victor Ochieng
It’s reported that during its financial crisis in 1838, Georgetown University earned millions of dollars from selling 272 of its slaves. The university is now in focus for its historic link to slavery. The slaves were bound and forced onto a ship and transported to Louisiana from Maryland, their plantation home. The slaves comprised of fathers-to-be, toddlers, pregnant women, and grandparents. Among the slaves was a two month-old infant who is said to be the youngest slave sold to save Georgetown.
According to The New York Times, many people in Georgetown are now asking whether it’s time for the Catholic University to compensate the descendants of these slaves as a way of making amends.
Many are wondering how the Catholic priests who led the university could hold several human beings in very unkind bondage and then sell them into cruel circumstances.
It is known from history that some of the slaves were actually donated by rich parishioners, and during that time, Georgetown depended on profits from Jesuit plantations in Maryland to run the college. It was a requirement by the priests that their slaves should attend Mass, but life was not easy. The slaves were mistreated and sold just like any other slaves.
Many people are still questioning the sale of 272 men, women, and children. As it was then and it is now, they believe that this number is too big.
The transaction was negotiated by two Georgetown Jesuit presidents and it earned the college a whopping $3.3 million in today’s dollars! Of this, about $500,000 was used to settle Georgetown’s debts.
This news has come at a time when there are protests and racial tensions at colleges with links to slavery. Following such protests by students, Georgetown removed the names of two former presidents – the Rev. William McSherry and the Rev. Thomas F. Mulledy – from university buildings. Still the students and activists feel that’s not enough.
“This is not a disembodied group of people, who are nameless and faceless. These are real people with real names and real descendants,” said Richard J. Cellini, an alumnus of the university.
Harvard University also replaced a shield in its law school because it incorporated the crest of a family that owned a slave who helped to finance the law school.
Many people are currently trying to find out what happened to the 272 slaves, and are also trying to locate their descendants. Among such people is Richard J. Cellini, a white male, who has organized a non-profit called the “Georgetown Memory Project.” He’s hired a team of genealogists to help him unravel this puzzle.