The Massachusetts Institute Of Technology (MIT) is delving into its own past history as an institution that once supported the business of owning Blacks with a course called “MIT and Slavery.”
Led by Professor Craig Steven Wilder, the primary research course has already uncovered several surprising revelations. For example, William Barton Roger, the founding president of MIT, once owned six slaves in the 1850s prior to his move to Boston. Researchers were able to determine this information based on an 1850 Virginia census document.
Wilder, the Barton L. Weller Professor of History at MIT, is a leading expert on the links between universities and slavery and says “people shouldn’t be surprised that MIT has these connections.”
“One of the things that MIT owes all of us, itself, its constituencies, its alumni, its students, its faculty, and the broader public is to be brutually honest about its past,” said Wilder.
The course will have an archival research class for undergraduates examine the school’s former ties to racism and uncover how the school was influenced by the prevailing racial attitudes of the past. Students not only look at curriculum, but at the school’s publications for their research into that influence.
“A complete version of our history”
L. Rafael Reif, president of MIT, told Blavity that the course is important to acknowledge its past so that the school could move toward the future.
“I am certain that we have nothing to fear from examining our past; understanding it better can only make us wiser,” he said. “I have already learned a great deal from listening to other people’s perspectives on the findings, and I look forward to our reflecting on this new knowledge as a community.”
“We must start thinking together about how to tell a complete version of our history,” he added.
In addition to the course, MIT intends to host an event on Friday, February 16, called “MIT and the Legacy of Slavery: Reviewing the Early Findings.”
MIT joins Brown University, Columbia University, and Harvard University as some of the country’s oldest institutions of higher education willing to investigate its past connections to slavery.