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Georgetown University to give slave descendants priority in admission

Georgetown's slave past

WASHINGTON - Georgetown University will give preference in admissions to the descendants of slaves owned by the Maryland Jesuits as part of its effort to atone for profiting from the sale of enslaved people.

Georgetown president John DeGioia told news outlets that the university in Washington, D.C., will implement the admissions preferences.  

Georgetown University confronts its history with slavery

He says Georgetown will need to identify and reach out to descendants of slaves and recruit them to the university.

On Thursday morning, a university committee released a report that also called on its leaders to offer a formal apology for the university’s participation in the slave trade.

The chair of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, David Collins, S.J., says he hopes the university can take full responsibility for its slave benefactors. “As we join the Georgetown community we must understand that part of our history is this history of slaveholding and the slave trade,” he said. “And that opens our eyes to broader social issues that are still unhealed in our nation.

“History matters up to the present and into the future.”

In 1789, when the original Georgetown College was founded, Jesuit-owned and -operated plantations in Maryland (which helped fund the new institution) were worked with slave labor. Profits from the plantations were foreseen as a means to fund the new school.

In 1838, two priests who served as president of the university orchestrated the sale of 272 people to pay off the school’s debts. The slaves were sent from Maryland to plantations in Louisiana. The school received $115,000 in the sale, the equivalent of about $3.3 million today.

In response to the committee’s recommendations, President DeGioia today announced several steps that would be taken, including:

  • Offering an apology for the university’s historical relationship with slavery;
  • Renaming university buildings in honor of Isaac (an enslaved person mentioned in the documents of the 1838 sale) and Anne Marie Becraft (a free woman of color who founded a school for black girls, and later joined the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore);
  • Establishing a public memorial to the enslaved;
  • Creating a research institute on the legacy of slavery; and
  • Engaging with descendants of enslaved people once owned by the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, and offering them the same consideration given members of the Georgetown community in the admissions process.

Richard Cellini, an alumnus of Georgetown who has researched the slave sale, told “CBS This Morning”​ in July he estimates there are between 10,000 and 15,000 descendants of the 272 slaves sold living today.

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