When Maryland Jesuit priests sold 272 slaves in 1838 to save the financially strapped Georgetown University for about $3.3 million in today’s dollars, those slaves would have never imagined that their descendants would one day be students at that very university.
But it’s happening.
Through the Georgetown Memory Project, the university took on the daunting task of identifying, apologizing and then making reparations to the descendants of the slaves. A working group to make this a reality was established in August 2016, following student demonstrations in the fall that urged the school to recognize and do something about its link to slavery.
The slaves — men, women and children — were sold and moved from Maryland to new owners in Louisiana.
The admission of siblings Shephard and Elizabeth Thomas is a historic step in this process.
Shepard Thomas (19), who is currently a freshman at Louisiana State University, plans to study engineering in the College, while his sister Elizabeth Thomas (23), a LSU graduate, will go to Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies for her masters in journalism, reports NPR.
The siblings believe the descendants of the 272 deserve the preferential admittance, although there are some who have said they don’t because it was not them who were slaves.
Their mother, Sandra Thomas, is concerned that Georgetown’s attempts to right their ugly past may not go far enough.
“What about me? I don’t want to go to school. I’m an old lady. What if you don’t have the capacity?” she told NPR. “You have on student lucky enough to have a decent family support system. He can go to Georgetown and he can thrive, he has that ambition. You’ve this kid over here. He’ll never go to Georgetown or any other school on this planet beyond a certain level. Now, what you going to do for him? Did his ancestors suffer any less? No.”
The university formally apologized for the part it played in slavery in a Mass in April. On the same day, they dedicated Isaac Hawkins Hall and Anne Marie Becraft Hall. Its namesakes are the first slaves listed in sale records and the founder of a school for black girls in Washington, D.C., respectively, reports The Hoya.