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Harvard pledges $100 million to research, redresses its role in slavery: 'We bear a moral responsibility'

A report titled 'Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery' highlighted how slave trade shaped the university.

Harvard pledges $100 million to research, redresses its role in slavery: 'We bear a moral responsibility'
Memorial Hall at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts - stock photo

Harvard University has pledged $100 million to study and atone for its ties to slavery. The school also announced it was looking to find and support descendants of enslaved people who worked at the Ivy League campus. The money will be used to fund research and redress its "extensive entanglements with slavery," said university President Lawrence Bacow. "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," said Bacow. The university will conduct research based on a report titled "Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery," which documents that the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries "comprised a vital part of the New England economy, and powerfully shaped Harvard University," reported CNN. The report said the fund is a reflection of the university's acknowledgment "of wrongdoing and a responsibility to undertake a sustained process of repair: financial expenditures are a necessary predicate to and foundation for redress."

People walk around Harvard University's main campus on December 19, 2000, in Cambridge, MA. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

 

"The report makes plain that slavery in America was by no means confined to the South," said Bacow. "It was embedded in the fabric and the institutions of the North, and it remained legal in Massachusetts until the Supreme Judicial Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1783." Bacow acknowledged that slavery and racism played a key role in Harvard's institutional history. He said enslaved people's labor "enriched numerous donors and, ultimately, the institution" as they worked on campus and supported students, faculty, staff and university presidents. The report found that Harvard presidents and others enslaved more than 70 people for over 150 years. Researchers have used historical records to identify dozens of enslaved people by name and their connection to the university. The university benefited from slavery from when it was founded in 1636 until Massachusetts abolished slavery. "Enslaved men and women served Harvard presidents and professors and fed and cared for Harvard students," read the report.



 

"These profitable financial relationships included, most notably, the beneficence of donors who accumulated their wealth through slave trading; from the labor of enslaved people on plantations in the Caribbean islands and in the American South; and from the Northern textile manufacturing industry, supplied with cotton grown by enslaved people held in bondage," read the report, which also noted that Harvard's financial investments included "loans to Caribbean sugar planters, rum distillers, and plantation suppliers along with investments in cotton manufacturing." During the 19th century, five men, whose donations accounted for one-third of the money the university received from private individuals, were found to have made their fortunes from slavery and slave-produced commodities. The university’s museum collections have human remains believed to be from indigenous people and enslaved people of African descent.

Cambridge, MA, USA - November 2, 2013: Radcliffe Quad undergrad housing at Harvard University in Fall in Cambridge, MA, USA on November 2, 2013.

 

 

Not only did the university benefit from slave labor, but presidents and professors of the university also promoted "race science," eugenics and carried out abusive "research" on enslaved people. "Some of these funds will be available for current use, while the balance will be held in an endowment to support this work overtime," said Bacow. The fund, among other things, will seek to expand educational opportunities for the descendants of enslaved people and establish partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). According to the plan, Harvard would pay for HBCU faculty members to spend a summer, semester or school year in visiting appointments on the Cambridge campus, while Harvard professors would be able to do the same at HBCUs.



 

Dennis Lloyd, 74, is a descendant of a woman enslaved by a family who helped fund the first Harvard professorship of law. "I think it's a step in the right direction," said Lloyd. He said it would promote "a better understanding of the history that has been lost ... and stolen from African Americans as a result of slavery."

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