Princeton University has voted to “disassociate” itself with the name of its campus seminary after a group of black seminarians protested its ties to the slaveholding founder of the institution.
On January 25, the Princeton Theological Seminary Board of Trustees voted to remove the name of Samuel Miller from the seminary in order to “repair yesterday’s wrongs.”
Miller, a professor at Princeton between 1813 and 1849, helped found the seminary. While he did own slaves, he was an outspoken opponent of the practice of slavery and hoped for its eventual discontinuation.
“But greatly as he disliked the institution [of slavery], he did not, we have seen, consider slaveholding in itself, of necessity, a sin; and even during the earlier part of his residence in New Jersey, at different times, held several slaves under the laws providing in that state for the gradual abolition of human bondage,” wrote Miller’s son, also name Samuel.
“In fact he held them only for a term of years, in a sort of apprenticeship, excepting in one case, in which he found himself deceived by the vendor as to the age of a man- slave, and obliged, by law, to hold him and provide for him for life. It was difficult otherwise to secure domestics; but this experiment of slavery, what with some that ran off, one that he could not get rid of, and the short-comings of all, was not very encouraging,” wrote the younger Miller.
On January 18, the Princeton Association of Black Seminarians held a protest urging the PTS to remove Miller’s name from the seminary. Some seminarians took part in a hunger strike and others vowed not to attend chapel service until the name was changed.
“Miller’s efforts against abolition and enforcing colonization of freed black slaves,” the group said in a statement, “does not reflect the theological imagination and pioneering spirit of this institution.”
The black seminarians group also circulated a petition calling for the removal of Miller’s name.
Princeton has recently made a number of concessions to black students, such as renaming a campus library after African-American abolitionist Theodore Sedgwick Wright, naming the Center for Black Church Studies after African-American missionary Betsey Stockton, and appointment of a full-time director for the Stockton Center.
In 2016, the seminary approved $27 million in reparations to be paid in perpetuity to descendants of slaves. The seminary has an endowment of approximately one billion dollars.
Despite these victories, the black seminarians said “there is still more work to complete.”
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