Georgetown Names Campus Buildings After People it Sold into Slavery

“Their pain is still here. It burns in the soul of every person of African descent in the United States,” said a descendant of one of the 272 people the university sold in 1838.

The seal of Georgetown University / REUTERS

In a moving ceremony on Tuesday, Georgetown University officially renamed two of its campus buildings after people it sold into slavery in the 1800s.

“We pray with you today because we have greatly sinned and because we are profoundly sorry,” said Rev. Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, at a Georgetown chapel. “Forgiveness is yours to bestow in your time and in your way.”

In 1838, Georgetown sold 272 people to a plantation in order to pay off a large debt. Many of the people were already enslaved by some of the university’s Jesuit priests, but the Louisiana plantation they were sold to had even worse conditions. On Tuesday, the descendants of these people gathered at a university chapel as the school seeks forgiveness.

“It is our very enslavement of another, our very ownership of another, culminating in the tragic sale of 272 women, men and children that remains with us to this day, trapping us in a historic truth for which we implore mercy and justice, hope and healing,” Kesicki said.

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The two buildings were originally named Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall. Rev. Thomas F. Mulledy was the university’s 17th president and brokered the sale. William McSherry assisted Mulledy with the sale.

Now, the buildings are called Isaac Hawkins Hall and Anne Marie Becraft Hall.

During the interim, Mulledy Hall was known as “Freedom Hall” and McSherry Hall was called “Remembrance Hall.”

“Their pain was unparalleled. Their pain is still here. It burns in the soul of every person of African descent in the United States,” said Sandra Green Thomas, one of the descendants, during the gathering. “We the descendants return to the home place, our ancestor’s home place acknowledging contrition, offering forgiveness. Hoping for penance and more importantly seeking justice for them and ourselves.”

Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation was created by Georgetown President John J. DeGioia to help the university shine light on and acknowledge its historic ties to slavery. In 2016 the Working Group compiled a report for DeGioia with recommendations for action the university should take. The report suggested the halls be named after Hawkins and Becraft.

Jessica Tilson, one of Hawkins’ descendants, told WUSA9 prior to the renaming ceremony that despite her ancestors’ brutal history, she does not feel angry.

“I’m just so happy to be here,” Tilson said. “This is such an exciting moment. Most people see pain. I just see happiness because I know my great great grandfather’s name. I know his name was Isaac. I know his parent’s names. And most people don’t know that.”

DeGioia was present on Tuesday as well and apologized to the descendants.

He had previously announced that descendants of the 272 people sold to Louisiana would be given preferred admissions to the university.

“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,” he had said.

Isaac Hawkins and Anne Marie Becraft

Hawkins was 65 when he, along with most of his family, was sold to Louisiana. Hawkins is the first person listed on the agreement for the sale. He is listed without a surname, according to the Working Group’s report. The report estimates Hawkins was born in 1773 but never experienced freedom.

“He was still in bondage in 1838, and it is unlikely that he lived long enough to see slavery overthrown a quarter century later,” the report states. “He does not appear in later bills of sale in the 1850s that do include his children.

“Isaac was a real person with a name and a family. His labor and his value helped build Georgetown and rescue it from financial crisis.”

Becraft, who was a free woman, founded one of the first schools for Black girls in Georgetown and was one of the United States’ first Black nuns.

According to the Working Group, Becraft was “a person with deep roots in the local community of Georgetown, a trailblazing educator, and a Catholic religious sister in the nineteenth century.”

“The scholarly encyclopedia Black Women in America describes her as one of America’s most illustrious women, whose ‘accomplishments in education in early nineteenth-century America helped shape Black Catholic history in the United States,’” the report adds.

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5 comments


  • Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey

    Has the “Society of Jesus”, the Catholic order which owns and runs Georgetown and to which these slave-dealing priests belonged, ever formally repented for the actions taken by their members for the profit of the Jesuit-owned institution?

  • Over A Period Of Centuries, Generation After Generations
    They Were Thieves And Enslavers

    Most people would agree that the so-called Transatlantic African Slave Trade (a misnomer, more accurately, it was the European Transatlantic Criminal Enterprise: The Theft and Enslavement of Human Beings) and chattel slavery were wrong and were crimes against humanity (as noted in the 1860 Republican Party’s presidential platform) and that it was about something from another— kidnap, robbery and theft of a person’s identity, industry, labor, capital, mental and physical health, personal liberty, self-determination and the erasing one’s culture and language if you will. The grand corrupt appropriation was total and final.

    And no matter if one defines, and views stealing through the prisms of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries or even the twenty-first century, when filtered through and measured by the ancient Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1790 BC) or any metric (Bible, Quran, Torah), the act of stealing is crystal clear—it’s appropriating and coveting something belonging to another and claiming it as one’s own (with mens rea by Europeans to permanently deprive the rightful owner of it), then exploiting it for one’s personal gain and pleasure thus receiving unjust enrichment and benefits at the expense and detriment of Africans, and Black Americans of African descent sustained by perversion of the rule of law, violence, and terrorism over a period of centuries.

    There is no ambiguity. There is no matter of interpretation irrespective of which time period one uses to assess the institution of race-based chattel slavery, “servitude for natural life”; partus sequitur ventrem, if a mother is enslaved so, too, is her child at birth and is the personal property of another human being. Slavery (thievery) as it existed in the United States and before that in the 13 British colonies were acts of stealing—stealing from contemporary generations of Africans and Black Americans of African descent and from future generations of their unborn children.

    They were crimes of theft, and terrorism (crimes against humanity as noted), perpetrated with impunity, and it was sanctioned by the rule of law by morally corrupt Europeans and European-Americans who we hold in great esteem—we call them the “Founding Fathers.” The rule of law was the binding agent— the apparatus used as a psychological and political cover and as a disguise to conceal the despicable lawlessness against man and God for centuries. It was and always will be immoral and unjust no matter the standards of morality or customs and mores or perverse distorted thinking of the enslavers/thieves at the time of the theft and terrorism or their present-day defenders and apologist.

    British colonial and Americanized slavery/ thievery was the application of a vile exploitive economic system (a large-scale, worldwide, long-term criminal enterprise of total forced domination over human beings for sexual exploitation, debauchery, exploitive involuntary unpaid work, and the enormous profits derived therefrom; in deplorable and unimaginable forced labor camps euphemistically known as plantations) perpetrated against Africans and Black Americans of African descent.

    This exploitive evil economic system of thievery and enslavement was facilitated and sustained by the rule of law. But, in fact, it was lawlessness—it was crimes of kidnapping—literally the stealing of one’s body, mass-violence, weaponized sex terrorism (WST)—rape used as punishment and control (men, women and children—pedophilia and other perversions 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries style), murder, robbery and theft of one’s liberty, self-determination and the deliberate withholding of education from Africans and Black Americans of African descent under the penalty of death.

    The mass elaborate criminal enterprise and conspiracy was delineated in the U.S. Constitution by those Framers we revere, without using the words “slave” or “slavery”—James Madison made certain of that—the element of criminal intent mens rea—the guilty mind is evident here of the illustrious Framers as they hammered out the codification of stealing in the United States Constitution in that “hot as hell” summer of 1787 in Philadelphia.

    It can never honestly be rationalized as “that was then, it was another time.” Not when we use the theory of law: “Original intent” of the Framers to guide us in seeking present-day remedies in the annals of law and in the interpretation of the Federalist Papers and U.S. Constitution, or when we use events that occurred over 2000 years ago; along with ancient texts and prayer books that span millenniums as operating manuals to guide our daily lives. Surely what the Founders and Framers like Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Morris and Jay said and did 230 years ago still matters today. We are connected to the past just as individual beautiful black pearls are connected to an elegant double-strand necklace. Each black (queen) pearl is important, independent, yet connected and contributes to the beauty of the necklace as a whole. The United States is a continuum and its history is important, it all matters, and it’s consequential—The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Truth!

    Copyright © 2017 Carl Gordon/University of the ‘Hood®. All rights reserved.

  • From what I’ve read and the latter part of the article, the accomplished Anne Marie Becraft was born free, so they only named one building after a slave they sold. And the preferred admissions for descendants sounds nice, but are they working on identifying the descendants of ALL the 272 defendants sold. In reading about this, Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Forty Acres and a Mule” comes to mind when he said he didn’t want the forty acres and a mule, just give him the 10% per year per acre and per mule. Georgetown certainly owes a lot of its current financial status due to the pre-sale and post-sale of these 272 souls. Some more financial reparations are due. This is an example of how we in the United States continue to reap the benefits of slavery, so no one should say that’s in the past.

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