Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia has promised a “vigorous” and “wide-ranging” response to help rectify his school’s role in the American slave trade.
One hundred seventy-eight years ago, the college had sold 272 slaves. The monetary value of these transactions equals $3.5 million today.
“This is an important moment in the life of our university,” DeGioia said. “I don’t think putting a plaque on the wall is going to be an answer.”
Part of the actual “answer” was announced by DeGioia in February: more faculty in the African-American studies and establishment of “a research center focused on racial injustice.”
Back in November of last year, the names of two past college presidents “who organized or played an advisory role in the sale of the slaves” were removed from campus buildings.
DeGioia said he recently received a draft report from the university’s “Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation,” a panel of administrators, faculty and students formed last year to study the issue.
[He] plans to travel to Louisiana next week to meet with descendants of the slaves to hear their views. Last week he met with another descendant, Patricia Bayonne-Johnson, in Spokane, Wash.
“We knew our history, but we had not appropriated it,” he said. “It was not alive in us.”
There were two evils in the 1838 actions, DeGioia said: The slave sale itself and the breakup of families. He said he hopes that now, generations later, Georgetown can play a role to help “re-knit” and “re-connect” families that were broken apart at the time.
Asked whether he would consider the slaves’ descendants part of the Georgetown family, he said he did not want to make any assumptions about how the descendants themselves view their relationship to the school.
“That they would want to be considered means more to me than anything,” he said.
DeGioia added that Georgetown, long “dedicated to social justice,” now has to “deepen [its] commitment to racial justice.”