Harvard University unveils plaque honoring slaves that served university presidents

Harvard University’s president has dedicated a plaque that honors slaves who worked on campus centuries ago.

The slate plaque was placed on Wadsworth House on Wednesday. The building served as the official residence of Harvard’s presidents until 1849.

The plaque lists the names of Titus and Venus, who were slaves who worked for President Benjamin Wadsworth from 1725 until 1737. It also lists the names of Juba and Bilhah, who were slaves in the household of President Edward Holyoke from 1737 until 1769.

It comes amid a widespread drive by Ivy League universities to acknowledge their involvement in the slave trade, and to expunge any racist or slave-trade references from their institutions.

Yale is in talks to change the title of a residential college named after John C Calhoun, a US vice president who was an ardent supporter of slavery.

Harvard is considering changing its school shield, which has bundles of wheat in tribute to a plantation owner.

And Princeton students staged a sit-in calling on the school to drop President Woodrow Wilson’s name from a college as he ‘had a racist legacy’.

Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a veteran of the civil rights movement, was present for the ceremony 

On Wednesday President Drew Faust hailed the new plaque as a significant step towards confronting the school’s involvement in the slave trade.

She told people at the ceremony that Harvard ‘was directly complicit in America’s system of racial bondage,’ and the plaque is meant to remember ‘stolen lives.’

The nearly 400-year-old school was founded in 1636 and Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1783.

Faust was joined by Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a veteran of the civil rights movement.

They paid tribute to Titus, who is described in President Wadsworth’s diaries as a ‘mulatto’ or ‘Native American’.

He was one of just two ethnic minorities ever allowed to join the full communion at First Church Cambridge, where he was baptized.

President Drew Faust gave two reasons for the plaque. Primarily that in order to 'truly move beyond the painful injustices' of slavery, ' the school must 'fully acknowledge and understand' their role in the shameful trade

Venus, described as ‘a negro wench’ who mainly served Wadsworth’s wife, was also baptized in First Church. Only one other ethnic minority was baptized there between 1696 and 1830, according to Harvard’s slave history archive.

She was bought shortly after the Wadsworth family moved into their home in 1726, and records show her baptism came in 1740, after Wadsworth had ended his presidency.

President Holyoke took over in 1737, and bought two slaves: Juba and Bilhah.

According to Holyoke’s diaries, it seems Juba participated in family activities and was a key part of their every day lives.

During Holyoke’s tenure Juba married Ciceely, the slave of a Hebrew professor at the school.

Little is known about Bilhah, except that she died at 6pm on February 24, 1765.

Wadsworth House now contains offices.

Announcing the move in an op-ed for the student newspaper The Harvard Crimson last month, Faust said she’s also convened a committee to recommend other campus sites warranting similar recognition and says Harvard will host a conference on universities and slavery next year.

In her op-ed, Faust gave two reasons for erecting the plaque.

The first was that in order to ‘truly move beyond the painful injustices’ of slavery, ‘ the school must ‘fully acknowledge and understand’ their role in the shameful trade.

It’s a subject that has long been studied in the South, and largely ignored in the North.

‘The importance of slavery in early New England was long ignored even by historians, and the presence and contributions of people of African descent at Harvard have remained a largely untold story.

‘But Harvard was directly complicit in America’s system of racial bondage from the College’s earliest days in the 17th century until slavery in Massachusetts ended in 1783, and Harvard continued to be indirectly involved through extensive financial and other ties to the slave South up to the time of emancipation.

‘This is our history and our legacy, one we must fully acknowledge and understand in order to truly move beyond the painful injustices at its core,’ she wrote.

Faust adds that by studying history, and the abuses of Harvard’s forefathers, the community will also be betTer able tackle current social issues.

‘We need to understand the attitudes and assumptions that made the oppressions of slavery possible in order to overcome their vestiges in our own time.

‘It should not be because we feel superior to our predecessors that we interrogate and challenge their actions. We should approach the past with humility because we too are humans with capacities for self-delusion, for moral failure and blindness, for inhumanity.

‘If we can better understand how oppression and exploitation could seem commonplace to so many of those who built Harvard, we may better equip ourselves to combat our own shortcomings and to advance justice and equality in our own time,’ Faust wrote.


Harvard’s Crest

Harvard's current shield, officially adopted in 1937, represents three bundles of wheat derived from the family crest of a plantation owner and slave traderThe announcement comes as Harvard has taken steps to remove university symbols and references that harken to the slave era.

The school’s current shield, officially adopted in 1937, represents three bundles of wheat under the university’s motto, ‘Veritas’. It derives from the family crest of Isaac Royall Jr, a plantation owner and slave trader from Antigua.

The symbol came under fire last fall, when a group of students launched a campaign called Royall Must Fall to have it changed.

Dean Martha Minow created a committee, made up of professors, alumni, students and staff, in response to the Royall Must Fall movement.

‘I endorse the recommendation to retire the shield because its association with slavery does not represent the values and aspirations of the Harvard Law School and because it has become a source of division rather than commonality in our community,’ she wrote to students and alumni.

The shield’s meaning has changed over time, said Bruce Mann, committee chairman and Harvard Law professor.

‘Too many people think the shield has become an impediment,’ he said. ‘Too many people see the association with slavery.’

Not everyone agreed with the recommendation. One professor on the committee, joined by a student, said keeping the current shield was a way to honor the slaves whose sacrifice provided the Royall family with its wealth.

They said the current shield should be tied ‘to a historically sound interpretative narrative about it’ and suggested adding the word ‘Iustitia’ — justice in Latin — below the word ‘Veritas.’

The Harvard Corporation will make a final decision regarding the shield’s future.


Yale University’s leaders have urged conversation about whether to change the name of a residential college named for John C Calhoun, a US vice president who was an ardent supporter of slavery.

Debate over the name began this summer with a petition circulated after nine black worshippers were slain in a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

The petition said the Calhoun name, in place since the 1930s, represents ‘an indifference to centuries of pain and suffering among the black population.’

‘Calhoun College will always preclude minority students from feeling truly at home at Yale,’ it said.

Its namesake graduated from Yale in 1804 and was a senator from South Carolina who routinely defended slavery as ‘a positive good’ before he died in 1850.

President Peter Salovey and Dean Jonathan Holloway said in a letter to alumni that weren’t taking a position on the question but urging a discussion in welcoming speeches to first-year students, and ‘we encourage you to take part as well.’

‘Any response should engage the entire community in a thoughtful, campus-wide conversation about the university’s history, the reasons why we remember or honor individuals, and whether historical narratives should be altered when they are disturbing,’ the letter said.


Princeton University became the latest school to be embroiled in a race scandal with 30 student’s staging a sit-in inside their president’s office in November.

The Black Justice League (BJL) have told President Christopher L. Eisgruber they won’t leave until Woodrow Wilson’s name is removed from a college and international affairs school, and a mural to him in a dining hall is demolished.

The group believe the former President, who led the formation of the League of Nations and helped all women get the vote, was a ‘proud Clansman’ who has a ‘racist legacy’.

They also want a ‘cultural space’ only black students can use and believe staff should go through ‘cultural competency training’.

In addition, demonstrators insisted mandatory classes on the ‘history of marginalized peoples’ should be held in a bid to create a better student environment for minority students.

But Eisgruber has not signed the document, insisting he cannot put the demands in place on his own.

Princeton is now one of 23 schools across the country where students are staging protests and demanding action from senior officials because they believe they have been subjected to racism and harassment.

The BJL announced through Facebook that they wanted ‘to confront and challenge institutional racism and systemic inequality’ in a bid to improve ‘student experience’.

However, according to student newspaper The Tab, some students condemned the move as their demands ‘didn’t make any sense’.


A former University of Mississippi student pleaded guilty last month to placing a noose on the school’s statue of its first black student.

Austin Reed Edenfield, 21, waived indictment and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge before U.S. District Judge Michael Mills in Oxford.

The charge says Edenfield helped others threaten force to intimidate African-American students and employees at the university.

He admitted to taking part in a February 2014 incident during which a noose and a former Georgia state flag with a Confederate battle emblem were placed on the Ole Miss statue of James Meredith.

Austin Reed Edenfield, 21, (pictured) pleaded guilty to putting a noose around the neck of a statue which depicts the first ever black student at Ole Miss, James Meredith  Austin Reed Edenfield, 21, pleaded guilty to putting a noose around the neck of this statue (pictured) which depicts the first ever black student at Ole Miss, James Meredith

Meredith integrated the university in 1962 amid rioting that was suppressed by federal troops.

Prosecutors said another former student, Graeme Phillip Harris, hatched the plan to place the noose and flag on the statue after a night of drinking with Edenfield and a third freshman in the Sigma Phil Epsilon fraternity house on campus.

They said Edenfield actually tied the noose on Meredith’s statue after Harris couldn’t do it.

Harris pleaded guilty in June to a misdemeanor charge of threatening force to intimidate African-American students and employees at the university after prosecutors agreed to drop a stiffer felony charge in exchange.

Meredith (pictured) integrated the university in 1962 amid rioting that was suppressed by federal troops

His lawyer argued Harris did not deserve prison, saying he had written a letter of apology to Meredith after falling under the influence of racist traditions at the fraternity.

Harris, who is also from Georgia, was sentenced to six months in prison, followed by 12 months of supervised release.

Federal Bureau of Prisons records show he is currently held at a minimum-security federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, and is scheduled to be released on July 1.

Source: The DailyMail

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