Harvard pledges $100M to atone for role in slavery

  • ">

    FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2018, file photo, a gate opens to the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. Harvard President Lawrence Bacow announced Tuesday, April 26, 2022 that the university is committing $100 million to study its ties to slavery and create a "Legacy of Slavery Fund." (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File) Charles Krupa

  • ">

    FILE — A passer-by walks near a newly unveiled plaque attached to Wadsworth House, Wednesday, April 6, 2016, on the campus of Harvard University, that honors four slaves that had been owned by and worked for Harvard's past presidents, in Cambridge, Mass. Harvard President Lawrence Bacow announced Tuesday, April 26, 2022 that the university is committing $100 million to study its ties to slavery and create a "Legacy of Slavery Fund." (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) Steven Senne

  • People walk on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, July 16, 2019. AP FILE PHOTO

Associated Press
Published: 4/26/2022 8:59:39 PM
Modified: 4/26/2022 8:58:10 PM

BOSTON — Harvard University is vowing to spend $100 million to research and atone for its extensive ties with slavery, the school’s president announced Tuesday, with plans to identify and support the descendants of enslaved people who labored at the Ivy League campus.

President Lawrence Bacow announced the funding as Harvard released a new report detailing many ways the college benefited from slavery and perpetuated racial inequality.

The report, commissioned by Bacow, found that Harvard’s faculty, staff and leaders enslaved more than 70 Black and Native American people from the school’s founding in 1636 to 1783. It cautions that the figure is “almost certainly an undercount.” Using historical records, researchers were able to identify dozens of enslaved people by name, along with their connection to the university.

“Enslaved men and women served Harvard presidents and professors and fed and cared for Harvard students,” researchers found. “Moreover, throughout this period and well into the 19th century, the University and its donors benefited from extensive financial ties to slavery.”

The report says the university “should make a significant monetary commitment, and it should invest in remedies of equal or greater breadth than other universities.” But the report stops short of recommending direct financial reparations, and officials have no immediate plans for that kind of support.

Bacow said Harvard will attempt to redress its wrongs through “teaching, research and service.” He is creating a committee to implement the report’s suggestions.

Building on earlier research at Harvard, the report details how the nation’s oldest and wealthiest college profited from the slave trade throughout its early history. It invested directly in the sugar and rum industries in the Caribbean, and the cotton and railroad industries in the United States. It also depended on wealthy donors who accumulated their wealth through the slave trade and industries that relied on it.

Later, after slavery was abolished, prominent scholars continued to promote concepts that fueled ideas of white supremacy, the report says. It cites work by 19th century professor Louis Agassiz, who pushed discredited theories on “race science” and eugenics. Another scholar led a “physical education” program on campus that collected students’ physical measurements to advance eugenic theories.

In his message, Bacow called the findings “disturbing and shocking,” and he acknowledged that the school “perpetuated practices that were profoundly immoral.”

“Consequently, I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals, on Harvard, and on our society,” he wrote.

The 130-page report included a series of recommendations that Bacow endorsed. The $100 million will be used to carry out the work, including some funding that will be available now and more to be held in an endowment. The university itself has an endowment of more than $50 billion, the largest in the nation.

The report calls on Harvard to identify the direct descendants of enslaved people and engage with them “through dialogue, programming, information sharing, relationship building, and educational support.”

“Through such efforts, these descendants can recover their histories, tell their stories and pursue empowering knowledge,” the report said.

In acknowledgement of the enslavement of Native Americans, the report also calls on Harvard to build closer ties with New England tribes. Harvard should recruit more students from tribal communities, the report says, and organize a national conference promoting research on colonialism and the enslavement of Indigenous people.

The report calls on Harvard to help address racial inequities in the United States and the Caribbean, including through expanded education programs for underserved communities. And it urges the university to build closer relationships with historically Black colleges across the country, with funding to bring students and scholars to Harvard for up to a year at a time.

Harvard joins a growing number of U.S. universities taking steps to acknowledge and make amends for their involvement with slavery.

Georgetown University in 2019 promised to raise $400,000 a year for the descendants of enslaved people sold by the school. The Princeton Theological Seminary created a $27.6 million reparative endowment. The University of Virginia established scholarships for the descendants of enslaved people.

Harvard formally began exploring its ties to slavery in 2016, when former President Drew Gilpin Faust acknowledged that the school was “directly complicit in America’s system of racial bondage.” Faust organized a committee to study the topic and had a plaque installed on campus honoring enslaved people who labored there.

Bacow commissioned the new report in 2019, building on that work.

“The Harvard that I have known, while far from perfect, has always tried to be better — to bring our lived experience ever closer to our high ideals,” Bacow wrote. “In releasing this report and committing ourselves to following through on its recommendations, we continue a long tradition of embracing the challenges before us.”


Sign up for our free email updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Headlines
Daily Hampshire Gazette Contests & Promotions
Daily Hampshire Gazette Evening Top Reads
Daily Hampshire Gazette Breaking News
Daily Hampshire Gazette Obits
Daily Hampshire Gazette Sports
Daily Hampshire Gazette PM Updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Weekly Top Stories
Daily Hampshire Gazette Valley Advocate

Jobs



Support Local Journalism


Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy