September 2, 2016 — Before a packed audience of students, faculty and alumni yesterday, Georgetown University President John DeGioia released the report from the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, established in September of 2015 to acknowledge and recognize the university’s historical relationship to slavery.
Georgetown University President John DeGioia
DeGioia opened the event on Georgetown’s campus by recognizing “with deep gratitude and humility” the presence of a number of descendants of the 272 Jesuit-owned slaves who were sold in 1838 to bolster the finances of the struggling university.
Saying that the university accepts its responsibilities to the descendants and “acknowledges that they are members of our Georgetown community,” DeGioia promised that, going forward, descendants of the 272 slaves would be entitled to the same preferential advantage in the admissions process as provided to the children of faculty, staff and alumni.
Fr. David Collins, SJ, associate professor of history at Georgetown, served as chair of the working group.
In addition, Georgetown University will rename two buildings named for the Jesuits who arranged the 1838 slave sale. The building formerly known as Mulledy Hall, named for Fr. Thomas Mulledy, SJ, a former president of Georgetown, will be renamed Isaac Hall in memory of the first enslaved person listed in the sale agreement. McSherry Hall, named for Fr. William McSherry, SJ, will be renamed Anne Marie Becraft Hall. A free woman of color, Becraft was a trailblazing educator and a Catholic religious sister in the 19th century, who had deep family roots in the neighborhood of Georgetown.
The university will also create an on-campus memorial to the 272 slaves, engaging with descendants in that process and in other initiatives, and will establish an Institute for the Study of Slavery and Its Legacies.
Saying that the report “explicitly calls for an apology,” DeGioia said that in offering that apology, the university will “draw on the resources of our Catholic tradition” and offer a Mass of reconciliation to be celebrated with the Archbishop of Washington, the Maryland Province Jesuits and the Jesuit Conference, which represents the Society of Jesus in Canada and the U.S.
Georgetown President John DeGioia with descendants of the 272 slaves sold in 1838.
In a statement on its website, the Maryland Province Jesuits said, “The Society of Jesus wants to acknowledge and understand more deeply the sins and failures of our past. It is our hope that the process initiated by the Working Group and fostered by this report will help heal the long-lasting scars of this deplorable eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history and advance the pursuit of racial equality and social justice in the present.”
Fr. David Collins, SJ, associate professor of history at Georgetown, served as chair of the working group. Calling the 102-page report “a sprawling expression of hope for justice and reconciliation” and acknowledging the magnitude of the job ahead, Fr. Collins said, “Make the report what it is intended to be, not a conclusion but a beginning and a prompt for ongoing work. This is how together we will succeed.”