In 2019, Harvard President Lawrence S. Paco appointed a panel of faculty to investigate the university’s connection to slavery, as well as its legacy. Discussions about race were intensifying across the country. The students demanded that the names of people involved in the slave trade be removed from the premises. Other universities, notably Brown, have conducted similar excavations of their past.
The result 130 page report In addition to two supplements released Tuesday, along with Promise of $100 Millionto create a fund granted to “correct” the mistakes of the past, one of the largest of its kind.
Here are some key findings and excerpts.
Slavery was part of everyday life at university
The report found that enslaved people lived on the Cambridge, Massachusetts campus, and in the president’s residence, and were part of the fabric of everyday life, albeit almost invisible.
“For nearly 150 years, from the university’s founding in 1636 until the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found slavery illegal in 1783, Harvard presidents and other leaders, as well as its faculty and staff, enslaved more than 70 individuals, some of whom worked On campus, the report said, “Slave men and women served Harvard’s presidents and professors and fed and cared for Harvard students.”
Four Harvard presidents are enslaved
The commission found at least 41 notable Harvard-linked individuals who had enslaved the people. Among them were four Harvard presidents, such as Ziada Mather, president from 1692 to 1701, and Benjamin Wadsworth, president from 1725 to 1737; Three Referees, John Winthrop, Joseph Dudley, John Leverett; William Brattle, First Church Minister, Cambridge; Edward Wigglesworth, Professor of Theology; John Winthrop, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy; Edward Hopkins, founder of the Hopkins Foundation. and Isaac Royal Jr., who funded the first Harvard law professor.
Recent releases on American college campuses
Interdependence relationship with farm owners
While the image of New England in popular culture has been linked to the abolition of slavery, wealthy plantation owners and Harvard University are mutually dependent on their wealth, the report said.
“Throughout this period and into the nineteenth century, the university and its donors profited from the extensive financial connections of slavery,” the report said. These lucrative financial relationships included, in particular, the benefit of donors who had accumulated fortunes through the slave trade; of slave labor on plantations in the Caribbean islands and in the American South; And from the northern textile industry supplied with cotton grown by enslaved slaves. The university also benefited from its own financial investments, which included loans to Caribbean sugar growers, rum distillers, and plantation suppliers along with investments in cotton processing.”
University slow to accept integration
Early attempts to integrate were met with stiff resistance from Harvard leaders who favored it as a school for a white upper crust, including wealthy white Southerners.
“In the years leading up to the Civil War, the chromatic streak remained consistent at Harvard despite a false start toward the arrival of blacks,” the report said. “In 1850, Harvard Medical School admitted three black students, but after a group of white students and alumni objected, they were expelled by the school’s dean, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Harvard faculty played a role in propagating false theories about racial differences that were used to justify apartheid and support Nazi Germany’s extermination of “unwanted” populations.
“In the nineteenth century, Harvard University began collecting human anatomical specimens, including the cadavers of slaves, which, in the hands of the university’s eminent scientific authorities, would become central to the promotion of so-called ethnology at Harvard and others,” the report said.
The bitter fruit of these ethnologists remains a part of Harvard’s living legacy today.
One such ethnologist was Harvard naturalist and professor Louis Agassiz, who commissioned daguerreotype portraits of enslaved people—Delia, Jack, Renti, Drana, Jim, Alfred, and Vassen—in a project to prove their inferiority. The report did mention that Tamara Lanier, a woman who traces her ancestry back to Renty, is challenging Harvard’s ownership of the pictures, saying that the pictures of Renty and his daughter Delia are her family’s heirlooms.
The legacy of slavery in the modern era
Until the 1960s, the legacy of slavery lived on in the few black students admitted to Harvard.
“During the five decades between 1890 and 1940, approximately 160 blacks attended Harvard College, or an average of about three per year, and 30 per decade,” the report said. “In 1960, there were nine black men out of 1,212 undergraduate students at Harvard College, and that number was a huge improvement over previous decades.”