Harvard University on Tuesday announced a $100 million fund to restore its ties to slavery after a report revealed that university leaders enslaved more than 70 people in the 17th and 18th centuries. .
The report, written by a committee appointed in 2019 by Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow, found that “slavery flourished in New England from its earliest days,” including at Harvard. Many who read the report will find it “disturbing and even shocking,” Bacow said in a statement.
The university’s president said the fund will go toward the report’s recommendations, which include efforts to improve educational opportunities for marginalized students and partnerships with historically black colleges and universities. He also recommended memorials, research opportunities, and programs that honor slaves and recognize the university’s ties to slavery.
The report found that between the university’s founding in 1636 and 1783, Harvard faculty, staff, and leaders enslaved more than 70 people, many of whom worked and lived on campus.
“Slavery – of Indigenous and African peoples – was an integral part of life in Massachusetts and Harvard during the colonial era,” according to the study’s findings.
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The university “had extensive financial ties to slavery and profited from it in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries,” the report said.
Some donors had ties to the slave trade through plantations in the Southern and Caribbean islands and through textile manufacturing operations in the North that were supplied by slave-grown cotton.
In the first half of the 19th century, five men who made their fortunes through slavery accounted for more than a third of the money given or pledged to Harvard by private individuals.
“These donors have helped the university build a national reputation, hire faculty, support students, grow its collections, expand its physical footprint, and expand its infrastructure,” the report said.
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Harvard also commemorates slavery-related benefactors today through statues, buildings and pulpits, according to the report.
Several Harvard intellectuals, including presidents and prominent professors, promoted “racial science” and eugenics from the mid-19th century through the 20th century, the report said. Some conducted abusive and intrusive research that was used to justify slavery and racist ideologies.
The report also acknowledged that the Harvard Museum collections include the remains of thousands of people of indigenous and African descent who may have been enslaved.
In a statement, Tomiko Brown-Nagin, chair of the committee and professor of constitutional law and history, urged students, faculty and staff to read the report as a way “to examine our past as well as our present.” .
“We can’t dismantle what we don’t understand, and we can’t understand the contemporary injustice we face unless we honestly consider our history,” said Brown-Nagin, who is also dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.
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While the report expands on previous research on the links between one of the nation’s most prestigious universities and slavery, Harvard also acknowledged some of those connections.
In 2016, Drew Gilpin Faust, the university’s president at the time, publicly acknowledged that Harvard was “directly complicit in America’s system of racial servitude” and “indirectly involved through significant financial and other ties,” according to Tuesday’s report. Faust also created a committee to investigate the university’s ties to slavery.
Bacow said the report’s findings serve as “benchmarks” in efforts to “properly consider our past.” He said he will appoint a committee to implement the report’s recommendations and allocate $100 million for those efforts.
The $100 million commitment is significant, but Harvard’s endowment grew to $53.2 billion in fiscal year 2021.
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In recent years, many universities have begun to assess their ties to slavery, with some joining a group known as Universities Studying Slavery. The consortium, which is based at the University of Virginia, includes Harvard and other colleges such as Brown, Georgetown, the University of Georgia and the University of North Carolina.
Brown was the first Ivy League university to officially acknowledge its ties to slavery, according to Tuesday’s report. The university has invested $10 million to support academic opportunities for K-12 students in Providence, Rhode Island. It also offered opportunities for graduate student loan forgiveness and scholarships to support slavery studies.
In 2019, Princeton pledged $27.6 million in reparations for its ties to slavery, and Georgetown announced a $400,000 reparations fund.
Recently, Johns Hopkins University revealed in 2020 that its namesake founder had enslaved at least four people. He had been thought before to be an abolitionist.
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