Georgetown University Atones for Role in Slave Trade, Renames Buildings After Slaves

In a move that came almost two centuries later, Georgetown University formally apologized for the school's link to slavery. To show its regret, it moved to rename its halls after the African-American slaves it sold during that period.

Georgetown University
Georgetown University in Washington D.C. |

A special ceremony was held at the Gaston Hall of the Washington D.C. university in which descendants of the 272 people sold as slaves in 1838 to help fund the school were in attendance along with representatives from the Jesuit Conference of Canada and United States.

Rev. Timothy Kesicki spoke in behalf of the university's founders and addressed the descendants at the Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope.

"Today the Society of Jesus, who helped establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say that we have greatly sinned, in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done, and what we have failed to do," said the reverend.

He acknowledged the mistake of the founding fathers in engaging with the slave trade almost 200 years ago.

"We are profoundly sorry – it is our very enslavement of another, our very ownership of another, culminating in the tragic sale of 272 women, men, and children that remains with us to this day, trapping us in an historic truth, for which we implore mercy and justice, hope and healing," he further lamented.

Sandra Green Thomas, great-great-granddaughter of Sam and Betsy Ware Harris, who were both sold into slavery, attended the reconciliation ceremony and wore a green ribbon to commemorate her ancestors.

"Their pain was unparalleled. Their pain is still here. It burns in the soul of every person of African descent in the United States," she said. "We the descendants return to the home place, our ancestor's home place acknowledging contrition, offering forgiveness. Hoping for penance and more importantly seeking justice for them and ourselves."

The university then followed the religious service with the official renaming of two buildings in the campus.

One building was named after Anne Marie Becraft, who taught the Catholic faith to black girls in the University. Another structure was named Isaac Hawkins Halls to honor the first black man the school sold to slavery.

In 2015, University President John DeGioia acknowledged the recommendations of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation tasked to look back into the school's ties with the slave trade that sold 272 black people in 1838 to pay off debts incurred by the university.

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