Harvard leaders, staff enslaved over 70 Black and Indigenous people, university acknowledges

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Photo via CNN)

Harvard University, one of the world’s most prestigious universities, enslaved over 70 individuals during the 17th and 18th centuries, according to a new report.

The report, chronicling the university’s deep ties to wealth generated from slave labor in the South and Caribbean, marks a landmark acknowledgment of the breadth of its entanglement with slavery, white supremacy and racial injustice for centuries.

The “Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery” report, which was released on Tuesday by a team of Harvard faculty, showed that slavery was an integral part of life there between 1636, when it was founded and 1783 when slavery was outlawed in Massachusetts.

During that timeframe, Harvard University leaders, faculty and staff enslaved more than 70 Black and Indigenous people, according to the report.

The report found the country’s oldest institution of higher education “helped to perpetuate the era’s racial oppression and exploitation.”

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

What’s more is that the university maintained important financial ties to donors who profited from slave trading and plantations in the American South and the Caribbean well into the 1800s, the report added.

“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.”

In an email, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said, “Harvard benefited from and in some ways perpetuated practices that were profoundly immoral.”

“Consequently, 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.”

The university’s governing corporation, meanwhile, pledged $100 million to create an endowed “Legacy of Slavery Fund” with the purpose of to addressing the educational, social and economic legacies of slavery and racism.

This comes as there have been a wider conversation in higher education in the United States about redressing the effects of slavery, discrimination, and racism – and growing calls for the US to provide reparations to the descendants of enslaved people.

In recent years, there have been other US universities which grappled with the issue, with some creating funds to address the legacies of slavery.


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