After learning about the university's involvement in the slave trade, a group of alumni established The Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation to right historic wrongs.
Trigger Warning: Slavery
In recognition of the order's slave-owning past, the Jesuits of Georgetown University have committed $100 million toward a $1 billion fund that will be utilized to support the education of descendants of slaves. In the year 1838, the Jesuits who ran the educational institution sold 272 enslaved people to pay off the university's debts. Several of those enslaved were baptized Catholic. They were bought by planters to work in sugar plantations in the state of Louisiana. The "transaction" was one of the largest slavery trades in the history of the United States. To right this historical wrong, the $100 million pledge was made through The Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation, CNN reports.
Jesuits pledge $100 million for descendants of enslaved people the Catholic order once owned https://t.co/OIbwsgyAj0— Michelle Boorstein (@mboorstein) March 16, 2021
The foundation is a collaboration between the Jesuits and the non-profit GU272, founded by descendants of those enslaved. Joe Stewart, currently the foundation's acting president, established the initiative when he learned that his ancestors were among the people sold. He is a business executive from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He read of the incident in an article published by The New York Times in the year 2016. Five years since then, the foundation is, according to him, the culmination of a "billion-dollar vision" for the future: a nation cured of the "disease of racism."
The Descendants of Jesuit slaveholding and the Jesuits of the United States announce a historic partnership in launching the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation. The foundation will work in the pursuit of racial healing and reconciliation.https://t.co/ndg1UFxUql— Jesuit News (@jesuitnews) March 16, 2021
"We weren't looking for indemnification for the past," Stewart said in an interview with CNN. "We were looking to use the past to move into dismantling the legacy of slavery and mitigating the impact of racism in the future." He was one of 8,000 descendants, living and dead, identified through an investigation into Georgetown's history of slavery. In the United States, the Jesuits justified slavery as a means to fund their missions, a paper in the Journal of Jesuit Studies reveals. In fact, the Jesuits of Maryland, who ran Georgetown, "routinely bought and sold people" in the 18th and 19th centuries prior to the sale in 1838.
Taking action for what at the time was acceptable Jesuits pledge $100 million for descendants of enslaved people the Catholic order once owned. the Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation. #wtpBLUE #DemVoice1 #DMV1 https://t.co/lfuWqMmoq9— Joe #wtpBLUE #DemVoice1 #DVM1 (@KneiserJoe) March 17, 2021
The investigation was launched in order to learn more about the 1838 sale. Georgetown alumni began the Georgetown Memory Project, and dozens of volunteers surveyed documents to identify around 200 people that had been sold. From there, they identified the enslaved's descendants. They discovered that Stewart is the descendant of Isaac Hawkins, one of the first men listed on the 1838 sale record. Compelled to discover more about his lineage, he met with fellow descendants who submitted a letter to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Arturo Sosa. Sosa called on the Jesuits to have discussions on their next steps. In 2017, Stewart met with the Rev. Tim Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.
I wrote this short overview of the Jesuits' historical involvement in slavery for a special issue of the Journal of Jesuit Studies on the topic, which came out in December. It's open-access, so go ahead & read it along with the other articles in the issue.https://t.co/3kOa91JR0N— Adam Rothman (@arothmanhistory) March 18, 2021
Kesicki apologized for the 1838 sale on behalf of Georgetown and the Jesuits. "We didn't know what to do in response to our sin of slaveholding, and the descendants said, 'We can show you a way forward,'" he explained. "With courage, we followed." The Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation is thus the result of years of meetings. The group has three main goals: "invest in descendants' education throughout their lives; fund programs and community leaders already engaged in anti-racism advocacy; and support elderly descendants for the rest of their lives." "[We want to] dismantle the legacy of racism, of slavery, and mitigate the impact of racism," Stewart affirmed. "Until we accomplish that, no payment is going to change hate."