How can a university make amends for a mass slave sale in the 19th century that kept the institution alive? That’s the question Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia is contemplating, reports The Washington Post.
DeGioia told The Post on Wednesday, “This is an important moment in the life of our university.” He added that hanging a plaque to honor the 272 slaves would be inadequate, although there are plans to place something tangible on campus.
The president, who is a former Georgetown student and professor, told the newspaper that the university is considering a number of options, which it will announce by the end of summer. This is part of the university’s commitment, announced in February, to engage in racial injustice.
Most people learned about the 1838 sale of the slaves, at the hands of the Jesuit priests who ran the debt-ridden college, from a New York Times article in April.
The records indicate that the youngest slave sold to save Georgetown was just 2 months old. The infant and its mother were among the group of grandparents, pregnant women, toddlers, and fathers-to-be. They were bound and forced onto a ship sailing from their plantation home in Maryland to new owners in Louisiana. The sale earned the university an estimated $3.5 million in today’s value.
The Times interviewed some of their descendants.
DeGioia said modern Georgetown administrations have been aware of the infamous slave sale. It’s no different from the many other universities in this nation that benefited from the slave trade. And like some of them, Georgetown is confronting its stained history for the first time.
He told The Post that the breakup of families is one of the twin evils of that episode — the other evil was the sale itself. The president said hopefully Georgetown can help “reconnect” those families.
DeGioia announced that he will travel to Louisiana next week to meet with descendants of Georgetown’s slaves.