Back in 1838, Jesuit priests sold 272 slaves to save Georgetown University from bankruptcy. Now, the descendants of those enslaved people are calling for reparations.
At the time, the famed university was Georgetown College, barely staying afloat until the priests sold those 272 to plantations in Louisiana.
As New York Times journalist Rachel Swarns wrote of the sale: “[N]o one was spared: not the 2-month-old baby and her mother, not the field hands, not the shoemaker and not Cornelius Hawkins, who was about 13 years old when he was forced onboard.”
Considering the harsh conditions those slaves faced, several descendants, as part of the GU272 Isaac Hawkins Legacy group, are calling for Georgetown University to give significant atonement for that sale.
Georgetown must atone
Georgia Goslee, lead counsel for the group, said that her clients “do not believe Georgetown has fully atoned for the wealth it unjustly accumulated off the back of unpaid slave labor,” the Washington Post reported.
While Georgetown has apologized and even offered preferred application status for descendants of those slaves, Goslee and others feel that it’s not enough. Not when so many of them are lacking the wealth that white Americans accumulated on the backs of slavery.
Thomas Craemer, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut, helped the group to calculate how much wealth had been denied their ancestors, based on wages and interest, though Goslee would not say what that amount was at a news conference Wednesday.
And now, they want Georgetown University to pay up.
“It was wet. It was damp. It was cold.”
For Dee Taylor, 70, and other descendants like her, this is more than an issue of money. It’s an emotional and painful connection.
Taylor reportedly burst into tears reading about a 10-year-old boy who was sold in Louisiana.
“He was on the bottom of the ship. It was wet. It was damp. It was cold,” she said.
“I have a 12-year-old grandson,” she continued. “When I look at him and I think about that 10-year-old little boy . . . I’m a mother. I’m a grandmother. I’m a great-grandmother. I can just see those babies on that ship crying, with their mothers shackled, or left behind… I feel their pain and grief, knowing they would never see each other again.”
For Taylor and other descendents, Georgetown Unversity’s actions in 1838 were simply unconscionable.
“How, in the name of Jesus, could the church I grew up in commit such a hideous sin and bury the truth for so many years?” she asked. “How can Georgetown, which owes its existence to these ancestors, claim genuine atonement when descendant families were not at the table when recommendations for making amends were offered, discussed, and chosen?”
“They need to make it right, plain and simple.”