On September 1, the president of Georgetown University John J. DeGioia said that the descendants of slaves sold by the university in 1838 will receive preferential admission. The announcement came as part of a report issued by the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, which works to reveal Georgetown’s historical ties to slavery.
The group was formed in 2015 when the Georgetown sought to increase transparency about their sale of 272 men, women, and children from their homes in southern Maryland to the Deep South. The money from the sale, which would amount to $3 million today, went to save the university from financial ruin.
Comprised of students, alumni, and faculty, the sixteen-member group has made several recommendations that would force Georgetown to confront all aspects of its history.
The group’s chair, David Collins, S.J. has said that the Georgetown community needs to recognize that slavery is a part of its history and admit their guilt. “History matters up to present and into the future,” he wrote in the report.
Collins’ statement comes during the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement and mounting racial tensions on college campuses around the country. As part of their response, the university has sponsored a series of teach-ins, lectures, campus tours, and conversation circles to promote open and honest dialogue among Georgetown students.
Georgetown is also introducing a Department for African American Studies, which will open to students this fall. The university is also increasing its archives on slavery. DeGioia says that Georgetown will establish an Institute for the Study of Slavery and Its Legacies to continue the investigation. In a statement, Georgetown said that their priority was “developing a shared understanding… and creating processes and structure” in order to engage with their history.
The Working Group has located descendants of the slaves in Louisiana and Spokane, Washington. The group also recommended that the university rename two campus buildings that are currently named after two Jesuit priests who were involved in the sale. Instead, the buildings would be renamed to honor a Isaac, one of the first slaves sold, and Anne Marie Belcroft, a free black woman who opened a school in Georgetown for African American girls in 1827.