I was prescient yesterday by saying the only answer for Georgetown was to pay reparations for descendants of its slaves. The New York Times editorial board calls for a very specific form of reparation:
Such denials are impossible in the harrowing history of slavery at Georgetown University that Rachel Swarns recounted recently in The Times. In 1838, the Jesuits running the college that became Georgetown sold 272 African-American men, women and children into a hellish life on sugar plantations in the South to finance the college’s continued operation. On that fact, there is no dispute.
The sale by the Jesuits stands out for its sheer size and the directness of its relationship to the existence and fortunes of one of the country’s top Catholic universities. The names of the people who were taken from the Jesuit plantations in Maryland and shipped to New Orleans are known. The fact that some of their descendants have already been found makes this a particularly salient case in the emerging effort to confront one of history’s worst crimes against humanity.
Georgetown is morally obligated to adopt restorative measures, which should clearly include a scholarship fund for the descendants of those who were sold to save the institution.
Many people may be startled to learn that the Jesuits were among the largest slaveholders in the nation. But as the historian Craig Steven Wilder notes in the forthcoming book “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development,” the Catholic Church was fully involved with slavery in the colonial period. Professor Wilder writes that income from slave plantations gave Catholics the resources to resist colonial-era persecution, allowed the church to survive through the American Revolution and underwrote the church’s expansion.
Visitors to the Jesuit plantations, including an Irish priest who visited Maryland in 1820, documented the violence against the enslaved. Some urged the church to get rid of its slaves. But as Professor Wilder writes, “Rather than retreating from slaveholding, the bishops built their church by tracking the westward expansion of plantation slavery” after the Louisiana Purchase.
Personally, I don’t think this goes far enough, but bringing the descendants into Georgetown for free would at least be something.
As to the idea that reparations is somehow unrealistic, well:
@jbouie Abandon this harebrained attempt at reparations, and pick more pragmatic battles…like the destruction of capitalism.
— Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) April 24, 2016
— Ed Baptist (@Ed_Baptist) April 24, 2016
The latter is by Ed Baptist, historian of slavery. White people benefit each and every day from the legacy of slavery and racism. They can move to the suburbs to “give their children the best education” because they have better jobs and histories of redlining, restrictive covenants, job flight, and violence made the suburbs traditionally a white-only space. They benefit from a lack of police violence. They benefit from better jobs and education. They benefit each and every day. The middle class is built on a foundation of slavery and racism. If we are going to accept those benefits, we also need to pay up to even the playing field. Otherwise, we are just continuing to invest and benefit from a racist society.