Harvard announces $100M fund to redress profiting from slavery

The Ivy League school and its donors benefited from slavery and fostered an environment of racial inequality

Harvard University will spend $100 million to research and make amends for the school’s ties to slavery. 

The funding announcement comes amid a new report released by Harvard President Larry Bacow that details how the Ivy League school and its donors benefited from slavery and fostered an environment of racial inequality.

Harvard University campus TheGrio
Harvard University campus. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

According to the “Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery” report, for nearly 150 years “Harvard presidents and other leaders, as well as its faculty and staff” enslaved more than 70 individuals during the 17th and 18th centuries. The report documents how the slave trade “comprised a vital part of the New England economy, and powerfully shaped Harvard University.”

“Enslaved men and women served Harvard presidents and professors and fed and cared for Harvard students,” the report said.

“Throughout this period and well into the 19th century, the university and its donors benefited from extensive financial ties to slavery,” per 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,” the report states, as noted by the New York Times

Harvard president Lawrence Bacow (Harvard)

“The report makes plain that slavery in America was by no means confined to the South,” Bacow said in a message to the Harvard community. “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.”

Harvard’s presidents and professors were eugenicists who conducted abusive “research” on enslaved people, according to the report.

“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,” Bacow wrote.

The report recommends the creation of a legacy of slavery fund via the commitment of $100 million aimed to redress the university’s tied to enslaved people “through teaching, research, and service” 

“Some of these funds will be available for current use, while the balance will be held in an endowment to support this work over time,” Bacow said.

In a video released with the report, Evelynn M. Hammonds, the chair of the department of the history of science, who is Black, said, “It’s time to document what is our legacy. We have to turn around and ask ourselves: ‘What were we doing? Why were we doing it? What does it mean for who we are now?’”

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