Georgetown to Apologize, Offer Preferred Admission to Descendants of 272 Slaves it Sold

Student activism has led to Georgetown University taking steps to rectify its historic ties to the enslavement of African Americans.



Joe Stewart and Patricia Bayonne-Johnson, both descendants of people sold as slaves by Georgetown University, arrive at the university on Sept. 1, 2016. REUTERS

In 1838, Georgetown University sold 272 enslaved people to pay off an operations debt. Almost 200 years later, John J. DeGioia, the university’s current president, announced unprecedented steps to make amends for slavery, including issuing a formal apology to the descendants of its former slaves and offering descendants preferred admissions.

Georgetown’s plan of action came as a result of a 102-page report created by the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. DeGioia and Working Group Chair Fr. David Collins presented the report to the Georgetown community on Thursday. The Working Group also called for a living memorial on campus for the remembrance of the school’s slaves and to establish an institute for the study of slavery, among other measures.

Georgetown has historic ties to the enslavement of African Americans. The university depended on Jesuit plantations in Maryland to assist in financing its operations. Its 17th president, Thomas F. Mulledy, sold 272 enslaved people owned by the Jesuit priests who founded and ran the university to pay off $47,654.54 in operations debt in 1838. That is the equivalent to about $3.3 million today.

“The most appropriate ways for us to redress the participation of our predecessors in the institution of slavery is to address the manifestations of the legacy of slavery in our time,” said DeGioia, who met over the summer with descendants in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Maringouin, Louisiana, as well as Spokane, Washington.

In regard to the university’s admissions policy, descendants of Georgetown’s slaves will be treated similarly to legacy applicants, who are children and grandchildren of alumni.

“Descendants have to have an advantage. No ambiguity,” Collins said in an interview with The Georgetown Voice.

“We give care and attention to members of the Georgetown community — faculty, staff, alumni — who have an enduring relationship with the university,” DeGioia said. “We will give that same care and attention to the children of the descendants.”

DeGioia did not mention financial aid or scholarships for descendants of the enslaved. However, the Working Group made recommendations that the university look into the feasibility of offering financial assistance as well.

Student Activism

Following the urging of student activists to address the school’s slavery legacy, in September 2015, DeGioia established the Working Group, comprised of students, faculty and alumni.

Karran Harper Royal of New Orleans is a direct descendant of some of the 272 enslaved people. On Thursday, Royal met with Georgetown students who held protests on campus last fall:

She tweeted:

Royal was also one of the descendants who attended Georgetown’s announcement and presented a Descendants Declaration:

The Georgetown Slavery Archive, initiated by the Archives Subgroup of the Working Group, is dedicated to creating a connection with the descendants of slaves.

“We have learned about many living descendants of the people who were once owned by Jesuits associated with the Maryland Province,” the website states. “The Georgetown Slavery Archive is dedicated to reaching out to descendants, gathering their knowledge of their family histories, and telling their stories.”

Related Story: Harvard Law to Scrap Seal with Connection to Slavery

The Working Group also made the recommendation to permanently rename the two buildings named for past Georgetown leaders associated with the slave trade, Mulledy and William McSherry. One building will become Anne Marie Becraft Hall, named for a Black educator and nun, and the other will be Isaac Hall after an enslaved Black man who was sold in 1838.

Related Story: Black Lives Matter Student Protests Around the U.S.

In November, students participated in a sit-in demonstration at DeGioia’s office demanding Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall officially be renamed. McSherry advised Mulledy on selling of slaves. He sold slaves as well.

DeGioia said in November that, pending a permanent change, Mulledy Hall would be known as “Freedom Hall” and McSherry Hall will be “Remembrance Hall.”

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  • The issue I have is this sounds great but more than 90 percent of African Americans can’t trace their lineage past great grandparents as generation X’ers. And it will most likely become worse with millennium’s. What mechanisms are in place to track down or allow people to trace their ancestors to Georgetown enslaved economics.

    Georgetown University shouldn’t let this be a wasted opportunity for real reparations

  • These weak white “apologies” to slave ancestors don’t go far enough. First, the slave descendants should be granted FREE tuition at Georgetown and every other school and college in AmeriKKKa. They kept us ignorant and illiterate for generations, making reading and writing a capital crime punishable by death! Even this should not take the place of reparations–another discussion our so-called fake “black” presidents (Clinton and O’Bama) should have addressed.
    . Those Jesuits always have their hands in oppressions around the world. They should have been chased down by Simon Weisenthal like the Nazis and charged with slave and war crimes.

  • Lee and Zazi, you both bring up reparations….. I’ll bite.

    So, I’m a White guy of North central European descent. My ancestors were kicked around Europe for generations before escaping to America after World War II (God Bless America!!!).

    I know from my ancestry that we never participated in slave trade….. But we were certainly held in poverty. We were dirt poor scratching out an existence.
    But, I’m White and I went to college and have had a good career.

    Do I owe you reparations?
    Do the Africans that sold your ancestors into slavery owe you reparations?
    What is your plan for whom should pay whom?

    • 1. The country owes reparations, not individuals.

      2. Whatever/whoever African(s) benefited from selling people into bondage is not an American concern. We need only be concerned about our own debts and responsibilities.

      3. Reparations can be outcome based to grow American GDP. Doing what it takes to equalize education outcome, for example. If done with accountability for those involved, and with a fresh eye towards understanding the investment necessary to be successful, facilitating the educational means to achieve economic equality just for Black people would inject the equivalent of Japan’s GDP into our economy.

      Programs like the GI Bill have an 8:1 ROI.

      • Thank you, Luke. Great response and great information resources – as usual.

        My concerns:
        1. If the country owes, that means I pay. The government has no money except that which it confiscates.
        2. If I thought we could actually accomplish your 3rd point, I’d be on board. Unfortunately, I don’t see the government as being adept enough to accomplish this. Just looking at the state and direction of our public schools does not make me want to see another penny go there. I just don’t think the government is competent to achieve anything like equalized education outcome – even if they wanted to. I think we’d just flush billions and billions more down the drain.

          • I really appreciate this civil conversation btn Dan and Luke…civility is missing in so many of the articles and/or comments I read here and in media. Negativity and passive aggressive comments will not move us forward.

      • Great artiles Luke.

        I sense that Dan like many others are confused when AA’s speak of reparations. No one wants to go into your bank account. No one is asking you personally nor your ancestors. I know many whites that grew up poor like yourself that “made it”. I myself grew up with no running water, no heat, wearing hand me downs 2 sizes too small or 6 sizes too big – and I also managed to make it to college and land myself a career as an IT director at a major corporation. But because of the systemic effects of slavery, Jim crow laws, lynchings, water hosing, dog attacks, Tuskegee experiments, and countless other methods of racial oppression and intimidation you better believe it has not been easy for me to make it this far. And surely has been a fight trying to press further. I’m always reminded of my color and that fact that some things simply don’t apply to me. My brothers and sisters have not had the grace and fortune of being a diamond in the rough that I have had coming out of poverty.

        Reparations gives the United States the opportunity to counter those wack ass apologies with economic stimulation.

        • Lynnwood, what I’d like to know is: If nobody is going to go into my bank account for these reparations, then where will the money come from????

          “The government” doesn’t have any money, unless they take it – from people like you and me.

          • Trump’s draft dodging chicken hawk saber rattling aside, we spend more on “defense” than the next 17 militaries added together. On the “intelligence” side, we have an ODNI, CIA, FBI, NSA, DSA, NCIS, ATF, etc., etc., etc. you mean we can’t free up enough money to get a multi hundred billion dollar return on investment? It’s a matter of priorities and management skills. There’s plenty of money.

          • Dan,

            I have an idea — make me and those like me (descendants of slaves) tax exempt of federal taxes for a period of 245 years — in lay terms, a lifetime. That way, the reparations are not coming from YOUR pocket. If the federal government can accommodate Native Americans for certain tax exemptions, they can do the same for descendants of slaves. Since my ancestors did not get paid for the work they did, it’s only fair that I inherit what should belong to them. Now keep in mind that the tax exempt status would also be in conjunction with strict anti-discriminatory laws prohibiting employed Black Americans from unlawful termination as retaliation for the law itself. For those who don’t work or refuse to work, they’re excluded from the plan. Which, if you think about it, might be incentive and motivation for more able bodied Americans to take full advantage of public education (lacking as it may be) to assist their efforts in getting a job that would afford them the opportunity to escape poverty and ignorance and contribute to society in a meaningful and productive way. But hey, my glasses are rose colored.

  • “The most appropriate ways for us to redress the participation of our predecessors in the institution of slavery is to address the manifestations of the legacy of slavery in our time,” Sounds so sanitary.

  • Always interesting articles on this website, however, I must chime in on this one. Roots of slavery can be found in almost every institution in this country, established prior to 1865. Americans simply cannot get away from that. Secondly, education is the key to escaping poverty and ignorance. There is no better way. Distributing large checks to people who lack a knowledge of financial responsibility won’t help anyone. Let’s be honest. Rather than fight with Georgetown about how their plans for atonement are lacking, why not work with the institution. Not every child who is a descendant of those unfortunate 272 (a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of millions alive today) will be in a position to finish Georgetown University. Quite frankly, due to our current educational system, the likelihood of failure is almost imminent. So here’s a suggestion — rather than demand full scholarships, which may end up in the garbage because of lack of preparation on the part of the students, Georgetown could start a college preparatory school on campus that would allow, those who need it, to get a head start. That’s one way to ensure success of these students. And, don’t dismiss preferential treatment because whether you are aware of it or not, that is a Big Deal.

  • Maggie McGuire

    Georgetown has taken a step in the right direction. I hope that Georgetown will seek the wise counsel of its colleagues at historically black colleges and universities to learn what strategies the HBCUs employ to foster a climate of success for their students.

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