Kirk Carapezza March 31, 2016
In an essay published in Harvard’s student-run newspaper The Crimson, Harvard President Drew Faust argued the university must recognize its ties to the slave trade, writing that “the presence and contributions of people of African descent at Harvard is still an untold story.”
President Faust says the university will recognize four slaves who lived and worked in Wadsworth Hall – the second oldest building at Harvard – with a plaque. The university will also host a conference on higher education and slavery next March.
“I think it’s an important first step,” said MIT Historian Craig Steven Wilder, the author of Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America’s Universities.
Wilder says the majority of the country’s top colleges founded during the Colonial period were built, partly, on American slavery.
“Every school from Harvard to Dartmouth. There are eight Ivy League schools. Seven of them were founded in the Colonial period, and they’re founded with wealth drawn from the slave trade or from human slavery – plantation slavery,” said Wilder, adding that more needs to be done to recognize that history. “I think it’s important to open up that conversation because when we change the way we think about their history, we also change the way we think about their possibilities today,” he said.
Faust’s acknowledgment follows the recent announcement that Harvard Law School will change its shield, which resembles the family crest of a slaveholder who was an early donor to the school.