WASHINGTON (WJZ) – Georgetown University is acknowledging the role slavery played in the prestigious university’s history. On Thursday, the university announced it will offer preferential admissions benefits to the descendants of slaves it sold back in 1838.
A prestigious institution facing a dark past. In 1838, Georgetown University sold 272 slaves to pay off debts — a $3 million sale by today’s standards.
On Thursday, leaders announced steps to right the wrongs, including an apology and granting descendants of those slaves preferential admissions treatment — a benefit children of current alumni already have.
“I believe the fundamental question we are wrestling with now is how can we contribute to ensuring evermore access and affordability to higher education in America for hundreds of thousands who are not able to access it,” said President John DeGioia, Georgetown University.
The slaves owned by what was then Georgetown College worked on plantations in the state of Maryland. The Reginald F. Lewis Museum downtown has exhibits on how the region as a whole benefited from slave labor.
“I think it’s a good first effort. But I think if they really wanted to act in good faith, if they really wanted to show equity, there should have been some kind of financial compensation,” said Lisa Crawley, Reginald F. Lewis Museum.
Doctor Karsonya Wise Whitehead with Loyola University says the next important step is finding descendants who could benefit from their newly found ties to Georgetown University.
“Where do we start in the process? Because if they are already in high school and they have the grades, can we get this connected and figured out in enough time to benefit them?” said Whitehead.
Georgetown also announced two buildings will be renamed — one after a slave and another after an African-American educator with ties to Baltimore.
The university will also establish a public memorial to the enslaved. One researcher estimates up to 15,000 descendants could still be alive.