Georgetown serves as a model for confronting past tainted by slavery

The student protests at Georgetown University in early November looked like those at the University of Missouri. Both movements focused on issues of racism, called for action from university officials and had hashtags: #ConcernedStudent1950 and #BuiltOn272. But the students at the two schools were pointing to different issues and eras of historical memory: 1950 is the year the University of Missouri admitted its first black student; 272 is the number of enslaved persons sold to Louisiana plantations by Jesuits connected to Georgetown in 1838.

William McSherry and Thomas Mulledy, the Jesuits primarily responsible for the sale, were the first and second provincial superiors of the Maryland Jesuits and were also presidents of Georgetown. Until Nov. 14, buildings at Georgetown, including one whose construction debt was largely paid off by the sale they arranged, were named for the two men. Those buildings are now temporarily called Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall. The names were changed after Georgetown’s current president, John DeGioia, bringing to an end a student sit-in outside his office, accepted the recommendation of a working group he had convened earlier this year. A choice of permanent names for the buildings is pending further consultation on campus.

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Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation has plans for an ongoing set of events to help the community discuss how “to foster a creative response to this shameful part of our history.” As the broader conversation about race in U.S. society continues to unfold, this example reminds us that we ought to hope not just for the success of protests, or an end to them, but for energy for the ongoing work of reconciliation.

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Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 12 months ago
Thank you for this, Georgetown Jesuits. This is the work of knowing who we are. I have recently discovered that I am directly descended from the children of an 11 year old Piscataway Indian girl who was married to an English colonialist (Giles Brent) by Fr. Andrew White SJ. Fr. White came to the shores of southern Maryland in 1634 and said the first Catholic Mass on the North American continent. He took a lot of interest in the Piscataway Indians, converting their chief and arranging the marriage as a way to establish amicable relations between the natives and colonists. Slavery was the bedrock of our economic survival and flourishing for more than 200 years. Questioning or challenging this system was like asking everyone to empty their bank accounts today. Now, a mere 150 years after the abolishment of slavery in this country, maybe we are finally ready to honestly look at this terrible cruelty and injustice. It can only bring us to a place of better understanding of who we are as a nation and as a people. We may even realize that we need to formally ask for forgiveness.
Henry George
1 year 11 months ago
Beth, While you intentions are good, they are somewhat naive. I did not enslave anyone. I did not profit by slavery It has been 150 years, time has moved on. Quite possibly a greater proportion of the present population of the United States has no ancestors who had anything to do with Slavery than those who did. If you want to make real changes then fund all Public Schools so that all students have new books, new desks, new ceilings that don't leak etc. There is no one to ask forgiveness from as the last slave died in the 20th Century. And what, what in the practical sense would Congress by asking for "Forgiveness" - do for anyone in 2015 ?
Tom Fields
1 year 11 months ago
Georgetown is no longer a "Catholic" University. Its founders are turning over in their graves.
Tom Fields
1 year 11 months ago
We fought a war over slavery. Unfortunately, there are those who want to keep the wounds open. This approach substitutes rhetoric for an honest appraisal of the issues in the Black Community. In 48 states out of 50 Black students have the highest HS drop out rate. 70-80% of Black children are born out of wedlock. The highest cause of death among young Black males is homicide---90% of which are committed by other Black males. Solve those problems! Stop the nonsense of old history!
alan macdonald
1 year 11 months ago
An event which occurred way over a century ago is the current Jesuit cause célèbre. Meanwhile, any relationship Georgetown U has with the Roman Catholic Church has long since disappeared and this school is truly secular in mission and mandate.
Henry George
1 year 11 months ago
If Georgetown wants to really make amends then why doesn't it have 80 % of next year's Freshman Class be American people of Colour - not the sons and daughters of Ambassadors/Rich People in 3rd World Countries but poor Americans of Colour.
Richard Booth
1 year 11 months ago
Tom...I don't see that one reality necessarily masks the other. Both are issues of concern, even though of different eras. I think the stats you mention also have a history.
Saul Tarsus
1 year 11 months ago
Meanwhile in Rwanda, the mothers of murdered children have chosen to forgive those who brutally hacked the bodies of their little ones into ribbons of flesh. Here, actual victims have found ways to co-exist with actual torturers, sometimes even by uniting their limping families into one. The mother of this amazing reconciliation: necessity; there’s simply no way to imprison all of these former monsters. But here in the U.S., slaves--4, 5, 6 generations removed from actual slavery--and slaveholders--4, 5, 6 generations removed from actual slaveholding--are locked in suspended absolution. The mother of this endless acrimony over crimes never suffered nor perpetrated: the micro-aggressions and trigger words, and other imperceptible indignities invisible to all but the most refined eyes of professors of race and gender studies. So we chisel names off of buildings and monuments as if they actually mean something in the 21st Century. They don’t. In a few years, the replacement names will be as meaningless as McSherry and Mulledy. As the anger festers over the humiliation suffered by much-beloved nameless and faceless ancestors, we can only pray Godspeed for the arrival of missionaries from Rwanda to lead us back to righteousness and remind us that resentment—real or conjured—never did any good for the resented or resentful. “My husband was hiding, and men hunted him down and killed him on a Tuesday. The following Tuesday, they came back and killed my two sons. I was hoping that my daughters would be saved, but then they took them to my husband’s village and killed them and threw them in the latrine. I was not able to remove them from that hole. I knelt down and prayed for them, along with my younger brother, and covered the latrine with dirt. The reason I granted pardon is because I realized that I would never get back the beloved ones I had lost. I could not live a lonely life — I wondered, if I was ill, who was going to stay by my bedside, and if I was in trouble and cried for help, who was going to rescue me? I preferred to grant pardon.” http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?_r=0
Henry George
1 year 11 months ago
Thank you for saying what needs to be said.
L J
1 year 11 months ago
We are truly fortunate to have Saul of Tarsus in our midst

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