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Conservative group’s post about blacks owning slaves in America sparks uproar

Black Student Union wants to see TPUSA ‘dismantled,’ dean demands apology 

The Black Student Union at Benedictine College wants to see the school’s Turning Point USA chapter “dismantled” after the group posted a controversial graphic about slavery in America that argued that the first man to win in court the right to own a slave in America was black.

The graphic, posted June 15 on the conservative group’s Instagram story, which only stays up for 24 hours, stated in part that the “first slave owner in America was not only a black man, he went to court and demanded it.”

It focused on Anthony Johnson, a black man who was one of the first legal owners of a permanent slave in the United States.

In Instagram messages to The College Fix, the Benedictine College Black Student Union said they talked to both the president of the university and the dean of students and “demanded” that the school “dismantle” the group.

However, they are skeptical of their odds, telling The College Fix: “What we demanded may not happen because of ‘Freedom of Speech’ or simply because one person shouldn’t be the reason the whole club is shut down.” The person speaking on behalf of the union declined to give their name, stating they feared how it would affect them as a student.

The Black Student Union representative also claimed the TPUSA president has made “racist” statements, but did not answer follow-up questions on what racist statements she allegedly made.

Joe Wurtz, the dean of students at the college, also told TPUSA to apologize to the Black Student Union and to cease posting about blacks owning slaves, according to a June 17 email sent by Wurtz to the group obtained by The College Fix.

“I will not be issuing an apology because the information that people were offended by was historically true,” Christina Rossini, president of the TPUSA chapter, told The College Fix in an e-mail.

Rossini said in a separate phone interview with The Fix that she met with the dean of students and explained why she posted the graphic.

“The only intent was to spread around a tidbit of history,” she said. “This is one of the big cases that made slavery a regular custom.”

“Slavery is disgusting and a horrible sin,” she added.

As for the claim by the Black Student Union that she’s made racist statements, she said it’s wholly untrue and called the accusation “a fear-mongering tool.”

Campus spokesperson Steve Johnson told The College Fix that TPUSA must meet with the Graduate Assistant for Diversity Initiatives this fall. He also said the university issued a statement “due to the complaints received about the post.”

He said campus administrators generally remain “hands off” when it comes to student groups’ social media posts, though the school requires the university’s social media coordinator to be an administrator on accounts.

Johnson also pointed The College Fix to the university’s June 17 statement by the president of the university, Stephen Minnis, that called TPUSA’s post “historically inaccurate and offensive.”

“This meme asserted that the first slave-owner in America was black. That is factually wrong.”

But the accuracy of whether a black man was the first American to own a slave comes down to how one parses the claim.

The university later appended its official statement to include a broader timeline of slavery in America. The timeline admitted Johnson “could more accurately be described as the first person whose status as a slaveowner was specifically recognized in a court decision in Virginia.”

The original statement by the university can be found here.

The controversial graphic in question has circulated for years and it’s unclear who first created it.

In 2015, Slate magazine attempted to fact-check it, noting that Johnson was one of the first legal slave owners in America (though, as the publication notes, the photo is not of Anthony Johnson, since photography did not exist in the 1600s).

In 2017, Smithsonian Magazine wrote a similar history, noting that Johnson’s slave, John Casor, “became the first person to be arbitrarily declared a slave for life in the U.S.”

However, in 2019, the African American Intellectual Historical Society, a research organization, wrote that Hugh Gwyn, who is white, was actually the first legal permanent slaveholder in America after his indentured servant, John Punch, was sentenced to permanent slavery after trying to escape indentured servitude.

MORE: Most college students think America invented slavery, professor finds

MORE: University accused of breach of contract for not recognizing conservative group

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.