Black History in Ivy Towers

When the names Harvard, Yale, Williams, Princeton or Rutgers are mentioned, it's usually with the association of intelligent minds and deep pocketbooks. But Massachusetts Institute of Technology American history professor Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities. What he found was nothing short of startling: just about every single college formed during the Colonial Era was founded on the basis of slavery.

The earliest colleges—Harvard, the College of William and Mary, and Yale—were formed to supply ministers, but they still needed funding and that's where local slave owners stepped in and opened their wallets. The first eight presidents of Princeton (the College of New Jersey) were slave owners, while the founder of Dartmouth, Eleazar Wheelock, used his eight slaves to help build the college. Not many schools escaped unscathed, with the History News Network reporting that Virginian planters becoming the governors and trustees at William and Mary, and New England financiers backing Harvard through ties to West Indian slavery.

Although Wilder's recently-published book is groundbreaking in its breadth and scope, it's not the first work to delve into the subject of slavery. In 2001, a report was published about Yale's ties to slavery, but it was dismissed as a grudge piece written by labor union-connected grad students in a battle with school administrators. It wasn't until two years later in 2003 that people would sit up and pay attention. Brown University President Ruth Simmons, the first African American and first female president of an Ivy League school, spearheaded an investigation into her school's link with slavery and when the final report was presented in 2006, its 107 pages outlined the school's history in great detail and made a number of recommendations of change. Since that report, the New York Times reports "scholars at William and Mary, Harvard, Emory, the University of Maryland, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and elsewhere have completed their own studies."

blog comments powered by Disqus