Georgetown University profited from the sale of 272 slaves two centuries ago.
Georgetown University "profited from the sale of 272 slaves" two centuries ago. Georgetown University/Shutterstock

According to the New York Times, Georgetown will begin "awarding preferential status in the admissions process to descendants of the enslaved."

Georgetown’s president, John J. DeGioia, who will discuss the measures in a speech on Thursday afternoon, also plans to offer a formal apology, create an institute for the study of slavery and erect a public memorial to the slaves whose labor benefited the institution, including those who were sold in 1838 to help keep the university afloat.

In addition, two campus buildings will be renamed — one for an enslaved African-American man and the other for an African-American educator who belonged to a Catholic religious order.

Offering an advantage in admissions for this reason is "unprecedented."

More than a dozen universities — including Brown, Harvard and the University of Virginia — have publicly recognized their ties to slavery and the slave trade. But Craig Steven Wilder and Alfred L. Brophy, two historians who have studied universities and slavery, said they knew of none that had offered preferential status in admissions to the descendants of slaves.

As for that 1838 sale of slaves, it was "worth about $3.3 million in today’s dollars."

The university committee that made recommendations says it's "likely that all of the earliest buildings on campus... were built with slave labor."

And the reaction among those actual descendants of slaves sold by the school? According to the Times, it's not as positive as the historians' reaction.

Karran Harper Royal, a descendant of slaves sold in 1838, said that she appreciated the decision to rename the buildings and to create a memorial. But she said the initiatives fell far short of what descendants had hoped for.

She said that Georgetown should have offered scholarships to descendants and included them on the committee that developed the recommendations, adding that she and others “felt the sting” of not being formally invited to Mr. DeGioia’s speech this afternoon.

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