Georgetown received considerable national attention last year when it offered preferential admissions treatment for the descendants of 272 slaves sold in 1838. It also published an apology, announced the creation of an institute on slavery, and renamed two buildings (including one, Issac Hayes Hall, after the first of the sold slaves). It appears however that the school has hit an impasse with the descendants who feel that Georgetown has not done enough and are demanding reparations. It is not clear if the reparations are in addition to the $1 billion demanded earlier from the University for a foundation.
While the university accepts responsibility, the 272 slaves were actually owned and sold by Maryland Jesuits, including two prominent Jesuits who served as president of Georgetown. The money was used to pay off the school’s debt. These enslaved persons included grandparents and pregnant women as well as a child and infant. Families were divided and accounts refer to people being dragged on to ships.
The sale was arranged by The Rev. Thomas F. Mulledy, who served as president of Georgetown from 1829 to 1838. He returned as president from 1845 to 1848. The Jesuits were receiving diminishing income from Maryland plantations and the school was in financial crisis. Mulledy proceeded in June 1838, to negotiate a sale with Henry Johnson, whho was a member of the Marylad House of Representatives, and Jesse Batey, a landowner in Louisiana, to sell slaves. The bill of sale was dated June 19, 1838, and stated: “Thomas F. Mulledy sells to Jesse Beatty and Henry Johnson two hundred and seventy two negroes, to wit.” The agreement allowed for discounts for any slaves deemed to be infirm. The sale produced $500,000 for Georgetown in today’s money.
The sale however was controversial even at its time. While Mulledy assured his superiors that the Louisiana owners promised to let the slaves practice their faith, many were outraged and he was called to Rome. He was eventually removed from the presidency and the following year Pope Gregory XVI barred Catholics from engaging in “this traffic in Blacks … no matter what pretext or excuse.”
There are 200 descendants identified as part of the GU272 Isaac Hawkins Legacy group and their representatives criticized the actions of the university as “symbolic gestures” and have retained an expert to calculate reparations. The methodology used in such calculations can be controversial. Thomas Craemer, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut calculated the amount of unpaid and forced labor of the descendants’ ancestors, their subsequent incomes as well as the inheritance that descendants could have received. This figure is then projected for growth over a couple hundred years.
Lead counsel Georgia Goslee indicated that talks are at a standstill. She has publicly objected that
“restitution has been conspicuously absent from the actions taken by the school so far to reconcile with the descendant community . . . Our message today to Georgetown, to the Jesuits: Stop. Stop devaluing the descendants. Stop abusing their patience . . . For elder descendants, time is precious, and they have earned the right to demand meaningful action, not just words from Georgetown leaders, and for the younger descendants whose wealth building opportunities have been crippled by the legacy of Catholic slavery, restitution is a vital lifeline to a better future.”
What do you think? Should Georgetown pay reparations to descendants as an essential part of any resolution of his great historical wrong?