Now that famous University of Pennsylvania graduate Steve Wynn’s name has been excised from a campus building and scholarship (and his honorary degree revoked), a professor wants the campus to acknowledge that the school’s founder was … a slave owner.
In a New York Daily News op-ed, UPenn History and Education professor John Zimmerman says that while Wynn “merely abused people in his charge, Benjamin Franklin enslaved them.”
“[Franklin]’s our university’s most famous founder, a statesman, a scientist and a humanitarian,” the prof writes, “and we won’t let anyone forget it.”
Which is perfectly fine, he continues, “so long as we also acknowledge that Franklin owned human beings.”
To be fair, Penn has begun to investigate its links to slavery. A group of undergraduates recently researched the financial holdings of 28 of the school’s 126 founding trustees. Twenty of them had slaves or business ties to the slave trade.
But Ben Franklin remains pristine — or so we like to think. If his name comes up in the slavery discussion at all, it’s because he became the president of a local abolitionist society near the end of his life.
But five names almost never come up: Peter, Jemima, Othello, King and George. They were the people owned by Benjamin Franklin. …
How many people — at Penn, or anywhere else — know [Franklin’s] history? Not many, I’d guess. But most of us now know about the transgressions of Steve Wynn, who preyed on female employees for decades. He also paid $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit by his manicurist, who said he forced her to have sex. …
I’m not suggesting we should scrub away references to Ben Franklin, whose services to the university — and the nation — are beyond measure. But nor should we whitewash his very deep connections to America’s original sin.
Zimmerman proposes a “small alteration”* to the very bottom of the university’s Franklin statue:
ADMIRED FOR TALENTS
ESTEEMED FOR PATRIOTISM
BELOVED FOR PHILANTHROPY
*OWNER OF SLAVES
The Daily Pennsylvanian notes UPenn has acknowledged Ben’s connection to slavery, but “emphasized his participation in the abolition movement.”
“It’s well known that our founder, Ben Franklin, early in his life owned slaves, but later became a leading abolitionist, ultimately serving as president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery,” Penn’s Director of Media Relations Ron Ozio told the Philadelphia Tribune in 2016.