Harvard University Reckons With its Historic Ties to Slavery
Harvard University leaders consider next steps in wake of its report documenting how the university benefited from slave-generated wealth and practiced racial discrimination.
Last week, Harvard become the most recent and one of the most prominent universities to reckon with its own complicity in slavery, acknowledging that university presidents, faculty, and staff enslaved more than 70 people in the years from 1636 to 1783, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that slavery was unlawful, according to TIME.
“Enslaved men and women served Harvard presidents and professors and fed and cared for Harvard students,” stated the Harvard report, released on April 26. “Moreover, throughout this period and well into the 19th century, the University and its donors benefited from extensive financial ties to slavery.”
“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,” Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said in a letter to the school community.
Excerpt from TIME: The university pledged to spend $100 million toward a “Legacy of Slavery Fund” that will support the continued study of Harvard’s ties to slavery and will be used to implement other measures recommended by the report—including that Harvard honor the labor of enslaved people with a memorial on campus; develop partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities; and improve educational access through partnerships with local colleges and nonprofits, to confront “enduring inequities that impact descendant communities in the US.”
Harvard Magazine writes that the hard part has barely begun. The most urgent of those questions relate to repair and atonement, and to what the University must do now, after the years-long effort to bring this fuller history to light. The answers were not easy, nor were they merely theoretical.
Excerpt from Harvard Magazine: "All of us at Harvard—all of us—are heirs to all that Harvard is," President Lawrence S. Bacow said in remarks, "and we cannot claim to stand for truth if we limit our view of the past." He reiterated the report’s major findings: that more than 70 people had been enslaved at Harvard, that faculty members had given scholarly legitimacy to ideas of racial superiority, and that the University continued racially discriminatory practices for many decades after slavery ended. "That this truth has been obscured for so long should prompt our indignation—and it does," he said. “But more importantly, it must also prompt our action."
The Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery report represents a landmark acknowledgment from one of the world’s most prestigious universities of the breadth of its entanglement with slavery, white supremacy and racial injustice for centuries after its 1636 founding, reports The Washington Post.
Excerpt from The Washington Post: [The report] also shatters any notion that Harvard, by virtue of its location in New England, was insulated from the evils of economic and social systems based on human bondage. Much of Harvard’s record on slavery and racial discrimination has been known for years. But the report sought to deepen that knowledge and tie it all together in an unsparing portrait of institutional failings.