Slavery is a word that makes most people cringe, and it’s causing some real problems right now for Georgetown University, because the Catholic institution of higher learning is being asked to explain the details of a slave sale in 1838 to make money to benefit Georgetown University (and its enrollment of all white students at that time) during its lean years. Approximately 272 slaves were sold by Georgetown to plantation owners in first Maryland and then Louisiana in order for the university to stay afloat. What was a hush-hush event is now public, and the descendants of the slaves and others are now asking some serious questions about why they were sold by Georgetown as slaves, why it was covered up by Georgetown, and largely lied about, and what happened to those 272 souls sold like property.
School scandals are nothing new, and recently in the DC area, another school steeped in tradition and religion was under investigation according to the Inquisitr. Sidwell Friends School in DC has been dealing with rape allegations on campus, as well as thefts and past allegations of drugs.
But the New York Times says that crime on campus does not compare to the slavery scandal that Georgetown is facing and the hard questions they are struggling to confront. The Georgetown slaves were owned by the Jesuit priests associated with Georgetown, but when the university needed some money, they arranged a sale of the 272 slaves to private owners in Maryland and Louisiana for what today would be $3.3 million, which helped the university survive through the tough times, and bailed then out of a crisis.
Needless to say, the individual information about the slaves was allegedly lost by Georgetown, but it seems more likely that it was swept under the rug, and so today, Judy Riffel, a genealogist was hired by the Georgetown Memory Project to help restore the records for the families. The Georgetown Memory Project is a group dedicated to supporting and identifying the descendants of the slaves, and they have had some success and gathered some stories, like that of Charles Hill, 74, whose slave great-great grandparents were Bill and Mary Ann Hill. Hill’s father always seemed to be hiding something when he told his children about their ancestors.
“My father always told me that we came out of Maryland, and that the name of the slave ship was Jackson. But that’s all he would tell us.”
Hill is still a Catholic, and though he yearns for information from Georgetown, he says he is not angry at the church.
“I believe in my rosary. I believe in my prayers. I believe in my candles. I’m not angry at the church. I love my church. What happened with slavery, that was back in the day.”
Hill believes that Georgetown should do a few things to try to make things right for the wrongs of the past. He believes Georgetown should put up a monument with their forefathers’ names on there. Georgetown could give some scholarships to the kids of the current and future generations.
Sandra Green Thomas, another great-great-grandchild of two of the Georgetown slaves read about the findings in the New York Times and did some of her own research and found that her great-great grandparents were on the list of the Georgetown slaves. One of Thomas’ first hints was like Hill, her strong Catholic heritage, which is why she always thought her people were truly from Louisiana.
But unlike Hill, the thought that her family was sold by Georgetown, by her church, is horrifying.
“I am still processing it. I find it somewhat comforting and amazing that the immediate family remained intact after being sold. But there’s some sadness, too. When I first read it, I was just looking at the facts. But when you start thinking about it, it is really horrific.”
The Washington Post claims that Georgetown University, in combination with the Catholic church, did what they did back in 1838 in order to cheat bankruptcy, but by today’s standards, it is disgusting to think that selling people was a solution to a financial problem. Before the investigation broke in the New York Times, the old Georgetown folklore claimed that all of the slaves perished, succumbing to fever in the swamps of Louisiana. But it turns out that many of the Georgetown slaves survived for decades, and today, thousands of their descendants want answers.
But the Washington Post has thoughts about what can be done now by Georgetown to get up to speed, and get to making this right for these families. The Maryland Jesuits and Georgetown back in 1838 called the 272 slaves members of the Georgetown Jesuit family, as all of them were thought of as Catholic, but what kind of way is this to treat your family? The Washington Post says that the families of the slaves should have super-status, as they are the foundation of Georgetown.
“Welcome at Georgetown? They built Georgetown. They are the ultimate insiders.”
So far, not a single family member has asked for any form of reparations, which is important to know going forward, and figuring out some way to move past this stain on Georgetown’s history,
The Washington Post believes the most important thing that Georgetown University should do is to offer a scholarship and Georgetown education to all descendants who are interested in this. Well, it’s a start.
What do you think of the revelation that Georgetown sold 272 people to Southern plantations? Why do you think that Georgetown didn’t share this information sooner?
[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]