Georgetown and the sin of Slavery – The New York Times/Editorial Board
… in the harrowing history of slavery at Georgetown University that Rachel Swarns recounted recently in The Times. In 1838, the Jesuits running the college that became Georgetown sold 272 African-American men, women and children into a hellish life on sugar plantations in the South to finance the college’s continued operation. On that fact, there is no dispute.
The sale by the Jesuits stands out for its sheer size and the directness of its relationship to the existence and fortunes of one of the country’s top Catholic universities. The names of the people who were taken from the Jesuit plantations in Maryland and shipped to New Orleans are known. The fact that some of their descendants have already been found makes this a particularly salient case in the emerging effort to confront one of history’s worst crimes against humanity.
Georgetown is morally obligated to adopt restorative measures, which should clearly include a scholarship fund for the descendants of those who were sold to save the institution.
Many people may be startled to learn that the Jesuits were among the largest slaveholders in the nation. But as the historian Craig Steven Wilder notes in the forthcoming book “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development,” the Catholic Church was fully involved with slavery in the colonial period. Professor Wilder writes that income from slave plantations gave Catholics the resources to resist colonial-era persecution, allowed the church to survive through the American Revolution and underwrote the church’s expansion.
Visitors to the Jesuit plantations, including an Irish priest who visited Maryland in 1820, documented the violence against the enslaved. Some urged the church to get rid of its slaves. But as Professor Wilder writes, “Rather than retreating from slaveholding, the bishops built their church by tracking the westward expansion of plantation slavery” after the Louisiana Purchase.
At Georgetown, slavery and scholarship were inextricably linked. The college relied on its plantations to help pay for its operations. When the school fell into trouble, the sale of the African-American men, women and children staved off its ruin.
READ THE WHOLE STORY:
SUNDAY, APRIL 24, 2016. 6:15 p.m. [GMT]