Harvard pledges $100 million to research and atones for its role in slavery

BOSTON (AP) — Harvard University is pledging to spend $100 million to study and atone for its close ties to slavery, the school’s president announced Tuesday, with plans to identify and support descendants slaves who worked on the Ivy League campus.

President Lawrence Bacow announced the funding as Harvard released a new report detailing the many ways the college profited from slavery and perpetuated racial inequality. But the report stops short of recommending direct financial reparations, and officials have no immediate plans for that kind of support.

Harvard, the nation’s oldest and wealthiest university, is the latest of a growing number of American schools trying to confront their involvement in slavery and make amends.

The report, commissioned by Bacow, found that Harvard faculty, staff and leaders had enslaved more than 70 black and Native Americans since the school’s founding from 1636 to 1783. It warns that the figure is ” almost certainly an undercount”. Using historical records, researchers were able to identify dozens of slaves by name, as well as their connection to the university.

Most were only identified by one name, such as Caesar, Dinah, and Venus.

“Enslaved men and women served Harvard presidents and professors and fed and cared for Harvard students,” researchers found. “Furthermore, throughout this period and into the 19th century, the University and its donors benefited from extensive financial ties to slavery.”

The report says the university “should make a significant financial commitment and invest in remedies on a scale equal to or greater than that of other universities.” Bacow said Harvard will seek to right its wrongs through “teaching, research and service.” He is creating a committee to implement the report’s suggestions.

Building on previous research at Harvard, the report details how the university depended on the slave trade in its early years and profited from it for decades.

Harvard invested directly in the sugar and rum trade in the Caribbean, as well as in the American cotton and railroad industries. The college’s early growth is attributed to the support of wealthy donors who amassed their fortunes through the slave trade and the industries that depended on it.

In addition to the 70 enslaved people, the report also lists their slaveholders — including several Harvard presidents and senior officials — as well as buildings, halls and pulpits on campus that still bear their names.

Even after the abolition of slavery, the report says, prominent scholars continued to promote concepts that fueled racist ideas.

He cites the work of 19th-century professor Louis Agassiz, who pushed discredited theories on “racial science” and eugenics. Another researcher ran a “physical education” program that collected students’ physical measurements to support research advancing eugenics theories.

In his message, Bacow called the findings “disturbing and shocking”, and he acknowledged that the school was “perpetuating deeply immoral practices”.

“Therefore, I believe we have a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the continuing corrosive effects of these historic practices on individuals, on Harvard, and on our society,” he wrote.

The 130-page report included a series of recommendations endorsed by Bacow. The $100 million will be used to complete the work, with some funds to be made available now and some to be held in an endowment. The university itself has an endowment of over $50 billion, the largest in the country.

The report says Harvard should identify the descendants of slaves and engage with them “through dialogue, programming, information sharing, relationship building, and educational support.”

“Through such efforts, these descendants can rediscover their stories, tell their stories, and pursue empowering knowledge,” the report said.

More broadly, he urges Harvard to address racial inequality by expanding educational options for descendants of slaves, especially in the South and the Caribbean. He calls on the university to work closely with historically black colleges across the country, with new funding to bring students and scholars to Harvard for up to one year at a time.

And acknowledging the enslavement of Native Americans, he calls on Harvard to forge closer ties with the tribes of New England. Harvard should recruit more students from tribal communities, the report says, and hold a national conference to promote research on the slavery of indigenous peoples.

By accepting the recommendations, Harvard joins a growing number of colleges trying to move from research to action as they come to terms with their stories.

Georgetown University pledged in 2019 to raise $400,000 a year for the descendants of slaves sold by the school. Princeton Theological Seminary created a $27.6 million restorative endowment. The University of Virginia created scholarships for descendants of slaves.

Harvard officially began exploring its ties to slavery in 2016, when former president Drew Gilpin Faust acknowledged the school was “directly complicit in America’s system of racial servitude.” Faust organized a committee to study the subject and had a plaque installed on campus honoring slaves. people who worked there.

Student activists had been shining a light on Harvard’s darkest histories for years. In 2015, students demanded that Harvard Law School drop its official crest, which was linked to an 18th-century donor whose family enslaved dozens of people. Months later, the school retired the symbol.

Shortly after becoming president, Bacow launched a new Presidential Initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery to further the role of the university. This effort led to the new report.

“The Harvard I knew, while far from perfect, always tried to be better – to bring our lived experience ever closer to our high ideals,” Bacow wrote. “By releasing this report and committing to act on its recommendations, we are continuing a long tradition of meeting the challenges ahead.”

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