Georgetown University Makes Amends for Slavery
In 1838, one of Maryland’s Jesuits, Rev. Thomas Mulledy, then president of Georgetown University, sold 272 slaves to pay off a debt, to keep the college from going bankrupt.
This June 2016, however, current Georgetown University president, John J. DeGioia, went to Spokane, Washington to meet up with the descendants of those slaves.
Patricia Bayonne-Johnson commissioned a genealogist to learn about her ancestors for a family reunion in 2004.
To her surprise, she learned that she was descended from the slaves sold by Jesuits from Maryland to Louisiana in the 1800s.
And now, DeGioia and Bayonne-Johnson, together with over 270 other descendants, are going to meet for the first time on Wednesday.
Georgetown University is making amends for its part in slavery. The gathering is “to listen, to learn,” said DeGioia.
Last year, Georgetown University students convinced their school administration to rename two halls originally named after two Jesuit priests who sold off slaves to get the college out of debt.
2015 saw the university’s opening of a new residential community, “The Spirit of Georgetown Residential Academy”.
In the president’s memorandum, the opening also served as
“an occasion for reflection and deep contemplation about the history of our University, including those moments in our history that are challenging, complex, and that run counter to the values that we seek to uphold. The opening of this new residential community—located in these historic buildings on our campus—calls our attention to a very difficult history, our own institution’s historical ties to slavery.”
This opened up discussions on the university’s participation in the slave trade.
The Working Group, which the president had assigned to research and discuss the university’s history, met with DeGioia and recommended that Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall be named “Freedom Hall” and “Remembrance Hall” respectively.
When this part of the university’s history was revealed, many professors and students started conducting a research to know what happened to those 272 slaves.
With issues of bigotry and racism still huge issues in campuses around the United States, the Georgetown University student and faculty have decided that this study is a step forward in reconciliation.
Other universities have acknowledged their school’s complicity in the slave trade, like Brown University.
In 2003, the university president, Ruth Simmons, appointed a Steering Community on Slavery and Justice, which would investigate and make reports on the university’s history and relationship with the slave trade.
Even Harvard University has commemorated the four enslaved people who worked for the households of the two university presidents in the 18th century.
But Georgetown University stands out because of the number of slaves sold, and the amount received. Accordingly, the 1838 sale equates to $3.3 million today.
While the university community was concerned about the renaming of the two halls and the college’s history, Richard J. Cellini, a Georgetown University alumnus, decided it was time for them to also trace what happened to those 272 slaves, and where their descendants are now.
“This is not a disembodied group of people, who are nameless and faceless. These are real people with real names and real descendants,” Cellini said.
His concerns led to him coming up with the Georgetown Memory Project. Cellini and historian Dr. Adam Rothman met up to reach out to the descendants.
And so, this gathering this Wednesday is meant to help several descendants learn about their ancestors and maybe even forge their future in Georgetown University.