Johns Hopkins University, whose researchers have been at the forefront of the global response to COVID-19, announced on Wednesday that its founder owned slaves during the 19th century, a revelation for the Baltimore-based school that had taken pride in the man purportedly being a staunch abolitionist. Researchers uncovered the information in government census records as part of an initiative exploring the university’s history, the AP reports. The long-held narrative of an abolitionist Hopkins whose father had freed the family’s slaves in 1807 came into question over the past several months. “We now have government census records that state Mr. Hopkins was the owner of one enslaved person listed in his household in 1840 and four enslaved people listed in 1850,” President Ronald J. Daniels and other school officials wrote in a letter to the Johns Hopkins community. “By the 1860 census, there are no enslaved persons listed in the household.”
Maryland did not abolish slavery until 1864. It's not yet clear whether the longstanding claims that Hopkins was an abolitionist "rest on any evidence at all," per the New York Times, and there's so far zero evidence that his father freed any enslaved people. The officials wrote that they will continue researching and "deepen our historical understanding of the legacy of racism in our country, our city, and our institutions.” Hopkins died in 1873 and left $7 million to open a university, orphanage, and hospital. But for all the cutting-edge research, the university and hospital have had a complicated relationship with residents of Baltimore, a majority-Black city. Residents were displaced from the neighborhoods around the Johns Hopkins facilities during expansion and redevelopment projects. And it was a surgeon at Johns Hopkins who in 1951 collected a piece of tissue from Henrietta Lacks without her consent while she was under anesthesia; her cells are still widely used in biomedical research.
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