Students at Johns Hopkins University aren’t very pleased at university officials’ reaction to new evidence that the school’s founder had owned slaves.
According to the News-Letter, a team led by JHU history professor Martha Jones noted that “preliminary” research indicates Johns Hopkins had owned one slave in 1840, and four in 1850.
The main source of information is vintage census data.
The team’s report says further research is needed to ascertain just how Hopkins acquired his slaves, and to determine the circumstances of the slaves’ lives.
The “myth” about Hopkins, “proudly retold countless times on campus tours [and] convocations,” says he was an abolitionist Quaker whose father had freed his slaves in 1807. But Professor Jones’ report says there’s no proof Hopkins was an abolitionist, despite evidence he was “affiliated with Union-leaning civic organizations” and had “received one member of the Lincoln administration.”
JHU students expressed their misgivings at a December 11 virtual town hall meeting dedicated to the revelation.
“It was a really classic example of the ways that Hopkins likes to not take accountability for any actions pertaining to the institution,” said senior Peggy-ita Obeng-Nyarkoh. “It was a lot of talking around things and not actually giving concrete answers.”
Sophomore Jayla Scott said it’s “not the University’s place” to determine how the campus should honor Hopkins’ slaves, and added “Why would you spread this legacy about your founder without looking at documents to confirm that this was true?”
According to Obeng-Nyarkoh, the news that Hopkins owned slaves is not a surprise.
“Given the time period and given the fact that Johns Hopkins, the man, was wealthy enough to found and be the benefactor for an institution and a hospital, it’s kind of indicative that, given the time period, he got his money through slavery,” she said. “Black students on this campus have been saying this for a while.”
Obeng-Nyarkoh also argued that it is time for the University to get serious about combating anti-Black racism.
“This is the same year that a noose was found in a Hopkins-associated building, and nothing was done about that,” she said. “Hopkins needs to take a deep and serious look at this institution.”
Contrary to Obeng-Nyarkoh’s assertions, something was done about the early-July noose incident: JHU officials used all the “correct” anti-racist language at their command to denounce it. Senior VP for Administration and Finance Daniel Ennis, for example, said administrators “will do everything within our power to make sure our community is free from hate and intimidation. Acts like this have no place in our society.”
Interestingly, no photos of the noose were ever made available, a true rarity in this social media age.