Academia built on slavery

Many U.S. universities were built on slave money.

Harvard, Princeton, Brown,  William and Mary, and Emory are a few names on the list, as discussed in an article in yesterday’s New York Times reviewing Craig Steven Wilder’s new book: Ebony and Ivory: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities:images

When Craig Steven Wilder first began digging around in university archives in 2002 for material linking universities to slavery, he recalled recently, he was “a little bashful” about what he was looking for. “Ebony and Ivy,” by Mr. Wilder, cites this ad for the sale of slaves by a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. “I would say, ‘I’m interested in 18th-century education,’ or something general like that,” Mr. Wilder said. But as he told the archivists more, they would bring out ledgers, letters and other documents.

“They’d push them across the table and say, ‘You might want to take a peek at this,’ ” he said. “It was often really great material that was cataloged in ways that was hard to find.” Now, more than a decade later, Mr. Wilder, a history professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a new book, “Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities,” which argues provocatively that the nation’s early colleges, alongside church and state, were “the third pillar of a civilization based on bondage.”He also has a lot more company in the archives. Since 2003, when Ruth Simmons, then the president of Brown University, announced a headline-grabbing initiative to investigate that university’s ties to slavery, scholars at William and Mary, Harvard, Emory, the University of Maryland, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and elsewhere have completed their own studies.

“And that tide is far from over. Last spring, a historian at Princeton began an undergraduate research seminar on the little-explored connections between that university and slavery. In September, the president of the University of Virginia announced a 27-member commission charged with recommending ways to commemorate the university’s “historical relationship with slavery and enslaved people,” in advance of its bicentennial, beginning in 2017. But Mr. Wilder, scholars say, seems to be the first to look beyond particular campuses to take a broader look at the role of slavery in the growth of America’s earliest universities, which, he argues, were more than just “innocent or passive beneficiaries” of wealth derived from the slave trade. “Craig shows that what happened at one institution wasn’t simply incidental or idiosyncratic,” said James Wright, a former president of Dartmouth College, which is discussed in the book. “Slavery was deeply embedded in all our institutions, which found ways to explain and rationalize slavery, even after the formation of the American republic.” “Ebony and Ivy,” published by Bloomsbury, documents connections between slavery and various universities’ founding moments, whether it is the bringing of eight black slaves to campus by Dartmouth’s first president, Eleazar Wheelock, or the announcement by Columbia University (then named King’s College) of the swearing in of its first trustees on a broadside paid for with a single advertisement: for a slave auction near Beekman’s Slip in Lower Manhattan.

“Mr. Wilder also ventures into more unexpected territory, including the rise of 19th-century “race science” and the evolution of university fund-raising. Harvard, he notes, emphasized its mission to convert “heathen” Indians in its early appeals for donations; by the late 18th century, its leaders were competing vigorously with those of other institutions for the tuition dollars and patronage of ascendant slave-owning West Indian planters. “Sometimes I chuckled at how contemporary some of these colonial administrators were,” Mr. Wilder said.”

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