Harvard: We Benefited From 'Profoundly Immoral Practices'

University releases 130-page report on its connections with slavery
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 26, 2022 1:44 PM CDT
Harvard: We Benefited From 'Profoundly Immoral Practices'
In this Dec. 13, 2018, file photo, a gate opens to the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass.   (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

Harvard University set out to uncover and record "every discoverable connection between Harvard and slavery," reports the Boston Globe. The result—the product of three years of work by faculty and student researchers—is a 130-page report that makes clear that the connections were there, and persisted for centuries.

  • The findings. The report found that Harvard presidents, faculty, and staff owned more than 70 slaves from the school’s founding in 1636 to 1783 (when the state's Supreme Judicial Court declared it unconstitutional). The Harvard Corporation, which has and continues to manage the school's wealth, enhanced that wealth by loaning money to Caribbean planters and investing in American textile mills that relied on slave labor. There were also major bequests to the school made from fortunes built by slave labor.
  • The findings II. The ties don't end when the slaveholding did, or even after emancipation. Scholars at Harvard continued to push "race science," which put whites atop a racial hierarchy. The university discriminated against Black and Native American applicants well into the 20th century.

  • Standout quote. "This report is unflinching," Tomiko Brown-Nagin tells the Globe. Brown-Nagin is dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, which chaired the committee that handled the report.
  • The recommendations. The spoiler: They've all been accepted by Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, who commissioned the report and who has vowed to spend $100 million carrying them out. The AP reports they include strengthening ties with historically Black colleges; investing in education among descendant communities; identifying and supporting the direct descendants of those enslaved at Harvard; and creating a "permanent and imposing physical memorial, convening space, or both."
  • Barcow's letter. In a message accompanying the report, Barcow writes in part, "Harvard benefited from and in some ways 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."
  • Context: Harvard is one of a growing number of universities that are examining these connections and addressing them in a financial manner. The New York Times reports the university's "financial commitment rivals the $100 million pledged by the Jesuits to be used to benefit the descendants of 272 enslaved people sold in 1838 to pay off the debts of Georgetown University."
(More Harvard stories.)

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