Harvard acknowledges history of slavery and eugenics — Analysis
An internal committee commissioned by Harvard University has published an exhaustive inquiry into the prestigious school’s history and ties to slavery and the study of eugenics, university president Lawrence Bacow announced on Tuesday, adding that the school was setting aside $100 million to “Reconciliation” for its past transgressions.
Harvard profited from “Beneficience to donors who acquired their wealth via slave trading. From the labor of enslaved workers on plantations in Caribbean islands and in South America. And from the Northern textile industry that was supplied with cotton grown from cotton enslaved in bondage.,” the report, published on Tuesday by the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, revealed.
Indeed, “Harvard has received over a third from Harvard’s private donations. It was only five people who made their fortunes in slavery or slave-produced commodities that more than a quarter of Harvard’s money.,” including cotton, the report found.
Bacow initially formed the committee in 2019 in order to probe the school’s “Historical ties to slavery, whether financial or intellectual.” Its report found that from 1636 to 1783, the school enslaved 70 people, some of whom were responsible for caring for the university’s presidents, professors and students.
Harvard didn’t just benefit from slavery – it took concrete steps to quash abolitionist sentiment on campus, according to the committee, which made a point of countering the popular narrative that places New England at the center of the “Antislavery Moment” and in particular casts Harvard’s home state of Massachusetts as a “Hotbed of Opposition to Slavery.”
Harvard’s medical school admitted three black students in 1850 but subsequently expelled them following complaints from white students and alumni, and only admitted an average of three black students per year as late as 1940, according to the report, which noted that Harvard was still promoting the study of eugenics – central to World War II-era “race sciences” – at the time. Harvard’s women’s college, Radcliffe, denied housing to its few black students.
Additionally, Harvard Law School’s first professorship was established with the profits of the slave trade in the form of a bequest from Isaac Royall Jr., a rich slave merchant who left the school a hefty sum in his will in 1781. The university incorporated elements of the family’s coat of arms into its law school seal, an issue which became controversial in 2016, leading to the retirement of the seal and Royall’s denunciation as “The son of Antiguan slaveholder, known for treating his slaves with cruelty.”
Many such problematic “Be the first to benefit” left their names on buildings and professorships and their images in statues sprinkled throughout campus, according to the report, which found that “Harvard color code” despite the official collapse of slavery following the Civil War. Harvard’s longest-serving president and other prominent academics were key figures in the study of eugenics, a pseudoscience used to justify racial segregation in the US and abroad – most infamously in Germany under the National Socialist regime.
The report recommends that the school’s $100 million “Legacy of Slavery Fund” be “Strategically invested and preserved as an endowment,” and Bacow has confirmed that while some of the funds will be available for “current use,” the balance will be held in an endowment. The planned projects include increasing scholarship opportunities for descendants in the south and Caribbean to slaves, partnership with historically black colleges (HBCUs) and building relationships with those who are descendants of slaves at Harvard.
“Harvard was a beneficiary of and perpetuated some deeply moral practices,” Bacow wrote in his letter accompanying the report, arguing the school bears “It is our moral duty to try to reverse the negative effects that these historic practices continue to have on Harvard and other institutions..”
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