Georgetown University is giving priority admission to the descendants of slaves it sold to fund the school

Georgetown University 1861Wikimedia CommonsUnion soldiers across the Potomac River from Georgetown University in 1861.

Georgetown University will award preferential status in the application process to descendants of slaves whose labour benefited the university, The New York Times reported.

In 1838 the school sold 272 men, women, and children for about $3.3 million in today’s dollars. The money helped keep the university open during a period of financial difficulty.

The school also plans to build a memorial for the slaves, create an institute on slavery, and name two campus buildings after African-Americans.

In addition, John J. DeGioia, the president of Georgetown University, will offer a formal apology for the university’s participation in slavery.

The announcement follows months of discussion on the proper steps the university should take to make amends for the benefits it reaped from slavery. No other university appears to offer the same advantage, according to The Times.

Still, on the issue of financial repayment, the university has remained tight-lipped. Georgetown has not indicated if it will award scholarships to the descendants of the enslaved — a possibly raised by the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, a committee DeGioia constructed last year to address the university’s relationship with slavery.

In June, DeGioia spoke with
Patricia Bayonne-Johnson, a descendant of two slaves it sold in 1838.

“He asked what could he do and how could he help,” Bayonne-Johnson told The Times in June. “It was a very good beginning.”

Historians believe that was the first time the leader of a prestigious university has met with the descendants of slaves it sold, according to The Times.

“I came to listen and learn,” DeGioia told the Times and described the meeting as “moving and inspiring.”

In a letter to the university community in April 2016, DeGioia outlined archival research to search for decedents of slaves as a primary focus over the last year.

While many universities across the US benefited from slavery, Georgetown has perhaps one of the most direct links.

In April, The New York Times editorial board published a blunt condemnation of the role that slavery played in the formation of Georgetown University.

“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,” the board wrote.

The Times put this number at 12,000 to 15,000 descendants of the 272 enslaved Americans, citing figures from the nonprofit Georgetown Memory Project’s statistical model.

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