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Open Letter to Georgetown University

Why the university’s apology to descendants of slaves is not enough.

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Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Nubia Valdez, Staff Writer

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At this year’s Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama made a powerful statement during her speech: “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn…”

Black slaves truly helped build this nation into what it is today; however, rarely do they ever get any recognition. They are forgotten beings, lost in time — their forced labor and suffering has gone unnoticed by today’s society.

However, Georgetown University is attempting to make amends for its slaveholding past. In an apology, the university’s president John DeGioia said:” We provide care and respect for the members of the Georgetown community: faculty, staff, alumni, those with an enduring relationship with Georgetown. We will provide the same care and respect to the descendants.”

Although the apology is appreciated, I still don’t believe it is enough to make up for such a disgusting past.

Hundreds of black students have walked through Georgetown University’s campus, which holds a serious slave-owning past. Slaves built the institution and in 1838, 272 were sold for $115,000 in order to save the same university they helped construct from closing down.

In today’s dollars, that $115,000 total translates to $3.3 million.

Aside from the 272 slaves that were sold, there were 12,000 to 15,000 slaves that were owned by the university’s priests at the time, according to “Georgetown University’s ‘Reparations’ Plan Is Worthless White Guilt Repackaged as Justice” in The Root by Samantha Master. Slaves were sent to the school from plantations in Maryland.

I applaud Georgetown University for trying to make amends for the actions of the university’s former slave-owning presidents, but I do not believe that they are doing enough.

The school has made plans to formally apologize but an apology doesn’t mean much without necessary actions taken. Along with the apology, the university must repay the descendants of the slaves the money that was given to the school when their family members were sold.

Without the slaves, the university would not be standing today.

Georgetown University’s president finally realized that hundreds of students have been attending classes in buildings named after slave owners like Rev. Thomas F. Mulledy and Rev. William McSherry — who were also former presidents of the university.

One building will be renamed after Isaac Hawkins, one of the slaves sold, and another after a 19th-century educator of color, Anne Marie Becraft Hall.

There will also be a memorial dedicated to all of the slaves that contributed to the school’s success. However, all this stands for is a reminder of how these slaves were used.

Georgetown University plans on giving the descendants of these slaves preferential admittance to their college. This is something many schools, including Ivy League universities like Harvard and Columbia, who have apologized for their past involvement in slavery have not done.

However, preferential admittance is nothing special here. It is also given to the children and grandchildren of alumni. While the descendants of the slaves are receiving priority entry into the school, just like many others, they are still paying thousands in tuition to the school.

The descendants of the slaves should not have to give one cent to the university. They should not have to pay tuition to a university which forced their ancestors to work on campus for no pay.

If the school were to pay the descendants of the slaves, they are at least giving them what the slaves were owed.

In an article for CNN, Dorothy A. Brown, a Georgetown University alumna, expressed how she wonders if she would have even attended the school had she known about its past.

Brown stated, “At least $3.3 million needs to be set aside by Georgetown University in a fund administered by a court-appointed official to oversee the requests of the descendants of the 272 sold slaves for how they want Georgetown to atone to them.”

I agree that money needs to be set aside for the descendants of the slaves. Their ancestors were forced to work on the university’s grounds and were subjected to harsh treatment and petrifying labor.

The descendants should receive the money that these hard-working slaves did not receive, and not have to pay for Georgetown university’s tuition.

Jessica Tilson, descendant of one of the slaves, thinks otherwise. In an interview with the Washington Post, she said, “Some of the descendants wanted money, reparations – Georgetown hand me money for raping, beating and selling my ancestors? I refuse to take money that way.” Instead, she would like her family to be repaid in education.

If Tilson chooses to attend Georgetown University— it is her choice and she has every right to. With that said, Georgetown University needs to pay the descendants of the slaves. Their ancestors were not paid for the labor that was forced on them and they deserved that money.

Georgetown University must prove itself to be the difference when it comes to schools with a slave-owning past. Sincere apologies are great, but there are dues to be paid.

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