Harvard University is setting aside $100 million fund to research and redress its “extensive entanglements with slavery,” university President Lawrence Bacow said Tuesday.
In an attempt to reckon with its past, a report titled “Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery,” documents how the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries “comprised a vital part of the New England economy, and powerfully shaped Harvard University.”
“The report makes plain that slavery in America was by no means confined to the South,” Bacow said in a release to members of the Harvard community.
“It was embedded in the fabric and the institutions of the North, and it remained legal in Massachusetts until the Supreme Judicial Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1783.”
Bacow said slavery and racism played a significant part in Harvard’s institutional history and enslaved people worked on campus and supported students, faculty, staff and university presidents. Their labour “enriched numerous donors and, ultimately, the institution.”
According to the report, which lists the names of some in an appendix, for nearly 150 years since the founding of the university in 1636 until Massachusetts abolished slavery, Harvard presidents and others held more than 70 people as slaves. It said:
“Enslaved men and women served Harvard presidents and professors and fed and cared for Harvard students,” the report said.
The university and its sponsors profited from the slave trade into the 19th century, the report said.
The report said Harvard’s financial investments included “loans to Caribbean sugar planters, rum distillers, and plantation suppliers along with investments in cotton manufacturing.”
University presidents and professors also promoted “race science” and eugenics and carried out abusive “research” on enslaved people, the report added.
“I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals, on Harvard, and on our society,” the university president wrote.
Dennis Lloyd, 74, a real estate developer who splits his time between Massachusetts and Georgia, is a descendant of Cuba Vassall, a woman who was born in Antigua and enslaved by the family of Isaac Royall Sr. A donation from Royall’s son in the late 18th century funded the first Harvard professorship of law.
The report includes recommendations to indemnify that legacy “through teaching, research, and service” and the commitment of $100 million for the creation of a legacy of slavery fund.
The report said the fund signifies the university’s acknowledgment “of wrongdoing and a responsibility to undertake a sustained process of repair: financial expenditures are a necessary predicate to and foundation for redress.”
Lloyd, a graduate of Howard University, praised the Ivy League university’s pledge to provide financial and educational support to the direct descendants of enslaved people and its vow to build ties with HBCUs.
“Harvard’s resources and pockets go very deep,” said Lloyd, a Vietnam War veteran. “Let’s see how everything is implemented.”
Harvard’s announcement comes as other universities across America attempt to reckon with their complicity with slavery.
In 2019, students at Georgetown University approved a fund that would benefit the descendants of slaves sold by the elite Jesuit school in the 1800s.
In 2021, leaders of the Jesuit conference of priests vowed to raise $100 Million as payments to the descendants of slaves it once owned.
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