For more than a century now, students walking across McCorkle Place, the main quadrangle at the University of North Carolina, have passed in the shadow of Silent Sam, standing sentinel atop a tall granite pedestal. The statue, erected in 1913 with funding from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, honors soldiers who fought for southern independence, a group that included some 40 percent of UNC’s 1860 student body. As several historians have shown, Silent Sam and the countless other “common soldier” monuments erected on campuses and courthouse lawns in the first decades of the twentieth century marked the climax of a long struggle over how the American Civil War would be remembered and represented, a struggle waged not on the battlefield but in school pageants and political campaigns, history textbooks and Hollywood films. In the version that prevailed—the version that still prevails in some quarters today—disunion became a defense of constitutional principle and southern independence a romantic “Lost Cause,” while the war itself became a kind of unifying trial, the crucible of a truly united United States. Slavery, if it featured at all in such accounts, appeared only as an incident, an unfortunate but essentially benign institution for governing relations between two differently endowed races; while the years of Reconstruction, during which African Americans briefly exercised civil and political rights, became “the Tragic Era,” a baleful age of corruption and racial fanaticism mercifully cut short by southern “Redemption.”1
Sam recently acquired new company on the quad. In 2005 the University of North Carolina unveiled the Unsung Founders Memorial in honor of the “people of color, bound and free, who helped build the Carolina that we cherish today.” Funded by a gift from the graduating class of 2002, the new memorial features a polished black granite tabletop upheld by the outstretched arms of hundreds of bronze figurines. “What we do today will not rectify what our ancestors did in the past,” declared James Moeser, UNC chancellor, in his speech at the dedication ceremony, “but this memorial, I believe, attests to our commitment to shed light on the darker corners of our history.” In keeping with that sentiment, the university library used the occasion to unveil a major exhibition, Slavery and the Making of the University, sharing documents and photographs from its collections to illuminate the university’s relationship to slavery.2
Though just a stone’s throw from one another, the two memorials conjure radically different pasts, a fact vividly expressed at their respective dedications. The tone of contrition and sober self-reflection at the 2005 ceremony was conspicuously absent at Sam’s dedication in 1913. The keynote speech on that occasion, delivered by Julian Shakespeare Carr, a local tobacco magnate, Confederate veteran, and UNC alumnus, was a paean to the Lost Cause—to the honor and devotion of southern soldiers and the “grand principle of local self government and State sovereignty” for which they fought. Carr paid particular homage to UNC’s student legions, whose “courage and steadfastness,” first in the war and later in the violent struggle against Reconstruction, had “saved the very life of the Anglo-Saxon race in the South.” He illustrated the point with a personal anecdote, recounting how, on his return to campus after Appomattox, he had “horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” after she “publicly insulted and maligned a southern lady.”3
The change in official memory at the University of North Carolina offers just one example of a process playing out in recent years at American universities, a growing number of which have chosen (or in a few cases been compelled) to confront their historical ties to slavery. In early 2002 a group of graduate students at Yale, responding to a recent university history portraying Yale as a citadel of abolitionism, published an independent report exposing some of the seamier aspects of the institution’s racial history. Later that same year, Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University and the first African American to head an Ivy League institution, appointed an official university committee to investigate and publicly disclose Brown’s historical entanglement with slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. In 2004 faculty members at the University of Alabama adopted a formal resolution of apology for their forebears’ role in perpetuating and promoting slavery; the apology was accompanied by a commitment to raise markers on the previously unmarked graves of slaves buried on the campus. In 2005 Emory University launched the Transforming Community Project, a five-year “process of discovery and dialogue about Emory’s racial history.” The Emory initiative was doubly significant, since it was a dispute over the ownership of an enslaved woman by the president of the university’s board of trustees that cleaved the Methodist Church into northern and southern wings, a watershed moment in the nation’s descent into disunion and war.4
Other institutions have followed suit. In 2009 William and Mary, the nation’s second-oldest college, launched The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation, named for an enslaved man once owned by the school. Among the outcomes of the project was a formal institutional apology, issued by the university’s board of visitors in 2018. The University of Virginia appointed the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University in 2013 and a second commission, the University in the Age of Segregation, in 2018. In 2017 Princeton University hosted an international conference to share the fruits of its five-year Princeton and Slavery Project, a conference that included a keynote address by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. While stopping short of official inquiries, several other prominent universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown, and the University of Maryland, have sponsored exhibitions, seminars, conferences, and research projects illuminating their ties to slavery.5
The recent raft of campus investigations and disclosures has attracted considerable public interest. It has also spawned fresh historical research. Scholars, some working under the auspices of university committees and others independently, have documented the ways in which campuses became seed-beds for racial thought. They have traced the shifting attitudes of students and faculty toward slavery and assessed the contribution of slave-generated wealth in establishing and endowing some of the nation’s most revered institutions. Sources long gathering dust in university archives—commencement addresses, records of student debating societies, old textbooks, and curricula—have been unearthed and examined.6 Inevitably, excavations of the racial past have invited reflection about the racial present—about the current state of campus race relations, as well as the responsibilities of elite universities to the communities of color around them, communities that in many cases continue to serve as reservoirs of manual labor, just as they did in the era of slavery. Several universities, following the lead of the University of North Carolina, have erected memorials and historical markers to recognize their previously unacknowledged debts to the enslaved. Others have engaged the question in reverse, debating whether to remove existing monuments or to rename buildings named in honor of slaveholders and secessionists.
Though seemingly local and specific, the debates have spilled beyond the campus gates, provoking broad public interest and, in some cases, igniting fierce controversy. Historians have long been aware that Georgetown University staved off financial ruin in the 1830s by selling 272 enslaved men, women, and children to sugar plantations in southern Louisiana, but when an alumnus and amateur genealogist managed to track down some of their descendants, still living in Louisiana, the sale became front-page national news. The episode touched off a roiling debate not only about appropriate forms of commemoration but also about whether and how the university should compensate the descendants, a debate that continues to this day.7 In Charlottesville, Virginia, the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in 2017 prompted an incursion onto the campus of the University of Virginia by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. The ensuing melee left one woman dead.
What are we to make of all this? What have recent revelations about universities and slavery taught us about our nation’s history and about the history of American higher education in particular? Equally important, what do they tell us about our own time? Why has the relationship between slavery and universities—a relationship hiding in plain sight for the better part of two centuries—become such a pressing concern today? Why are some seemingly so threatened by such investigations? What do these forays into difficult pasts actually accomplish? Do they portend a new, more inclusive era in our nation, or are they (as some critics have alleged) just the latest manifestation of “political correctness” on American campuses—“contrition chic,” as some have called it? The essays in this book, which examine some of the recent university explorations of slavery and its legacies, suggest a few answers to these questions.8
Americans learning today of the relationship between universities and slavery respond in different ways, but the most common response is simply surprise. This response bespeaks many things, not least the nation’s continuing failure to come to grips with slavery’s scope, scale, and historical significance. But it also reflects a kind of cognitive dissonance, the difficulty many of us have reconciling slavery, an institution now universally reviled as unnatural and abhorrent, with the ideals and values that we associate with universities—with progress, enlightenment, the unfettered pursuit of knowledge. Just as generations of Americans have struggled to comprehend the presence of slavery in a nation formally dedicated to freedom and human equality, so are we perplexed to discover evidence of slavery on college campuses.
Yet why should we be surprised? Slavery was not a marginal institution in American history, nor was its presence or political influence confined to a particular period or region. The cornerstone of New World colonization, slavery existed in the Americas for nearly four hundred years, from the late fifteenth century—at least one enslaved African accompanied Columbus on his second voyage to Hispaniola in 1493—to the final abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888. Because British North America was settled relatively late, slavery’s history in what is today the United States is shorter, but the institution still endured for 246 years, from the arrival of John Smith’s “twenty Negars” at Jamestown in 1619 to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in December 1865. Contrary to common belief, slavery existed in all thirteen British North American colonies and, for a time, in all thirteen original states. The population of New York City, for example, was about 20 percent enslaved at the time of the American Revolution, and it would take another half century, until 1827, for New York to abolish the institution outright. Neighboring New Jersey, which adopted a gradual emancipation bill in 1804, never got around to final abolition: the last few slaves there were freed by the Thirteenth Amendment.9
By the eve of the Civil War, the nation’s enslaved population exceeded four million, making the United States one of the two largest slave societies in human history. (The far-flung Roman Empire at its height included an estimated five million slaves.) The capital embodied by those four million men, women, and children in 1860 exceeded the value of all of the nation’s banks, factories, and railroads combined. While centered in the plantation South, slavery’s economic and political reach extended to every corner of American society: from the mill towns of Massachusetts, where slave-produced cotton was woven into textiles, to the account books of the nation’s burgeoning insurance industry, which did a bustling business in slave insurance; from Wall Street, where enslaved people were routinely accepted as collateral for mortgages and loans, to the Capitol in Washington, D.C., whose soaring rotunda, crested by a bronze statue of Freedom, was raised by enslaved workers. Ten of the first twelve American presidents owned slaves, as did hundreds of U.S. congressmen and senators and at least two-thirds of the justices serving on the Supreme Court before 1865. Today we extoll the heroism of abolitionists, but in their own time they were a small, often beleaguered minority.10
In light of all this, why should we be surprised to find slavery’s shadow on campus? And yet some of the revelations from recent university investigations remain frankly jarring: that thirty members of the governing board of the College of Rhode Island, what is today Brown University, owned or captained slave ships; that enslaved people were sold at auction on the steps of the Princeton president’s house; that the first endowed professorship of law in American history, the Royall Chair at Harvard, was established with wealth wrought from an Antiguan plantation; that the Jesuits who oversaw Georgetown sold 272 human beings in 1838; that students at Maryland’s Washington College resolved an 1856 debate—“Is the institution of slavery necessary for the most perfect development of Society?”—in the affirmative by a three-to-one margin; that the president of the University of Alabama personally whipped a man in his office; or that students at the Medical College of Virginia, what is today Virginia Commonwealth University, trained on the cadavers of enslaved men and women, whose bodies were then unceremoniously dumped in a nearby well. One could multiply such examples almost indefinitely. Yet even that would not do full justice to slavery’s presence on American campuses, to the routine reality of enslaved men, women, and children constructing the classrooms, cooking the food, tending the grounds, scouring the latrines, and even staffing the brothels of the nation’s most venerable institutions.11
To be sure, not everyone on American campuses supported slavery. Universities were and are quarrelsome places, home to a diversity of political opinion. The essays that follow offer examples of university presidents and professors resigning their posts rather than compromise their values, of student commencement orators decrying slavery as a moral and political evil, of universities nurturing emergent antislavery thought. Not surprisingly, such sentiments sprouted more readily on northern than southern campuses, but there was no tidy sectional divide. Oberlin College, celebrated as a citadel of abolitionism, was established precisely because of the hostility that its antislavery founders encountered at other northern schools. Harvard graduated many of the abolitionist movement’s most outspoken leaders, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wendell Phillips, Henry David Thoreau, William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker, and Charles Sumner, but it also explicitly prohibited faculty members from discussing abolition. At least two faculty members were dismissed in the 1840s for violating the ban.12
The picture at southern campuses was also complex. At the level of both formal ideology and shared “common sense,” southern universities provided critical support to the slave regime. As the sectional crisis escalated in the 1850s, many also became hotbeds of southern nationalism. To take one notorious example: members of the University of Virginia’s Jefferson Literary and Debating Society responded to the brutal caning of Charles Sumner on the floor of the U.S. Senate by sending his assailant, Preston Brooks, a new gold-headed cane. Yet even in these fevered circumstances, some southern students continued to question the morality and efficacy of slavery right up until the Civil War, keeping open a small, narrowing space for debate in a region rushing headlong to secession and war. If there is a single generalization to be drawn from the essays that follow, it is that the relationship between slavery and universities defies easy generalization. One of the primary objects of this book is to tease out these historical particularities, to reconstruct the struggles of students, faculty, and administrators on different campuses to come to terms with an institution that many came to recognize as the central political, intellectual, and moral question of their age.13
Before getting down to cases, let us briefly consider one other question. Why now? How did an institution abolished in 1865 become such a compelling concern on college campuses in the early 2000s? Here again, there is no single answer: as the essays in this book show, different institutions came to the slavery question in different, sometimes quite idiosyncratic, ways. Yet it is also possible to identify broad changes in historical context, some international in scope and others distinctively American, that have helped to create a receptive climate for the kind of retrospective confrontations described here.
Probably the first point to make is that American universities are not the only institutions in the world today that find themselves exploring the “darker corners” of their pasts. On the contrary, recent decades have seen a veritable explosion of such historical reckonings, as well as a multiplication of vehicles for pursuing them, including truth commissions, monetary reparations programs, collective apologies, days of remembrance, and the erection (or removal) of public memorials. Given the dizzying variety of ventures, it is difficult to generalize about them, but the sheer number of initiatives suggests a sea change in international political culture, a growing consensus on the importance of confronting and, as much as possible, redressing gross historical injustice.14
Where does this consensus come from? Clearly, the answer has something to do with the crumbling of the Cold War order, which propelled more than a score of violent, authoritarian societies awkwardly down the road toward liberal democracy. The first truth commissions, for example, were established to determine the fate of the so-called disappeared, men and women abducted and killed during the decades of military rule in Latin America. But the impulse to confront painful pasts reflects more than circumstance. It also reflects a convergence of important, if little remarked, changes in Western political and intellectual life: the growing influence of nongovernmental organizations (including several dedicated explicitly to promoting historical redress and reconciliation); increased emphasis on victims’ rights within both international humanitarian law and the American criminal justice system; the emergence of what philosopher Charles Taylor has called “the politics of recognition,” a politics keyed not to individual rights but to the collective rights of groups to have the identities and histories they value acknowledged in the public sphere. Perhaps most important, the commitment to confronting painful pasts reflects the influence of therapeutic culture, particularly of the “trauma” paradigm. Extending an insight only recently embraced in the field of psychology, advocates of historical redress insist that, for societies as for individuals, traumatic experiences must be unearthed and addressed in order for the afflicted to heal and move forward.15
The growing popularity of historical redress has attracted sharp criticism, especially in the United States, where such ventures run up against widely held beliefs about progress, self-reliance, and personal (as opposed to collective) responsibility. Perhaps not surprisingly, the loudest criticism has come from commentators on the political Right, for whom the endless rehashing of group grievances offers just one more index of the “fraying of America,” of the nation’s descent into balkanization and the culture of victimhood. But criticism has also come from the Left. For historian John Torpey, for example, the current vogue for “reparations politics” bespeaks not historical progress but progressive collapse, a paralysis brought about by the failure of socialist and social democratic governments and the rise of neoliberal hegemony. When human beings lose the capacity to imagine better futures, Torpey writes, the past “rushes to fill the vacuum.”16
Notwithstanding such skepticism, the United States has been the site of important retrospective justice ventures. The most obvious example—and still the most successful historical redress exercise in U.S. history—is the campaign on behalf of Japanese American citizens interned during the Second World War. So familiar are the facts of the internment today that it is easy to forget how thoroughly memories of the episode were repressed in the decades after the war, including by internees themselves, for whom the experience remained a source of shame and embarrassment. This culture of silence was finally broken in the late 1970s by a grassroots popular movement spearheaded by internees’ children and grandchildren. The movement succeeded in pressuring the U.S. Congress to appoint a formal commission of inquiry, which led in turn to the 1988 Civil Liberties Act, a bipartisan bill that was signed by President Ronald Reagan and that extended a formal apology and individual monetary reparations in the amount of $20,000 to each surviving victim of the internment.17
Though little noted at the time, the Civil Liberties Act included an amendment introduced by North Carolina senator Jesse Helms “to preclude … this legislation from being used as a precedent in the courts or elsewhere to give precedent or standing to any future claims on the part of … any other citizen or group claiming to have been dealt an injustice by the American Government at some point in the past.” If Helms’s goal was to prevent a run on the U.S. Treasury by the historically aggrieved, his efforts succeeded: Japanese American internees remain virtually alone in having received individual monetary reparations from the federal government. But if his goal was to forestall future exercises in historical redress, he succeeded less well. The years since 1988 have seen a proliferation of such ventures, several of which culminated in formal government apologies, including presidential apologies to indigenous Hawaiians and survivors of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs apology to Native Americans for the BIA’s role in “ethnic cleansing” and the deliberate destruction of Native cultures, and a U.S. Senate resolution apologizing for that body’s decades-long obstruction of federal anti-lynching legislation. While Congress has not authorized additional inquiries along the lines of the internment commission, the model has been used at the state level to examine previously neglected historical crimes, including the Wilmington, North Carolina, race riot of 1898, the Tulsa riot of 1921, and the Rosewood, Florida, massacre of 1923.18
All these factors provide important context for understanding the recent wave of university investigations and disclosures. Ultimately, however, the most important factor in forcing slavery onto campus dockets was the emergence in the late 1990s and early 2000s of a vocal slavery reparations movement. No other historical redress claim posed such profound questions about the structure and essential character of American society; none spawned such bitter controversy or racially polarized opinion. College campuses would be one of the terrains on which the reparations controversy played out.
The question of whether or not enslaved African Americans or their descendants are entitled to some compensation for their centuries of unrequited toil has a long history in the United States, from Reconstruction-era claims to “forty acres and a mule” to the 1969 Black Manifesto, which demanded $500 million “as the beginning of the reparations due us as people who have been exploited and degraded, brutalized, killed, and persecuted.” After a period of relative quiescence, reparations demands surged anew in the 1990s, inspired by the success of other historical redress claims, particularly of the movement on behalf of Japanese American internees. In early 1989 Congressman John Conyers introduced a bill to create a nonpartisan commission “to examine the institution of slavery, subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of those forces on living African Americans” and to recommend to Congress appropriate remedies. Conyers designated the bill H.R. 40, symbolically linking it with freed-people’s historical claim to forty acres after the Civil War, but the language of the bill was taken almost verbatim from the legislation establishing a commission of inquiry about Japanese American internment.19
While Conyers proposed legislation, others pursued litigation, filing a brace of lawsuits against the federal government in the mid-1990s. When these cases were dismissed on procedural grounds (including the federal government’s sovereign immunity from suit), reparations litigators tried a different tack, preparing class-action lawsuits against private corporations alleged to have profited from slavery and related industries—a tactic that had been used with some success in cases involving corporations implicated in Nazi-era forced labor policies. The first such case, directed against Boston Fleet Bank, CSX Railroad, Aetna Insurance, and up to one thousand “Corporate (John) Does” to be named later, was filed in federal court in early 2002. While no university ever became a named party in reparations litigation, universities figured prominently in discussions of the issue, including Yale, Harvard, and Brown, all of which were publicly identified as “probable targets of future lawsuits” by reparations advocates.20
The rise of the slavery reparations movement produced fierce reaction, which cleaved along starkly racial lines. Indeed, public opinion polls revealed a wider racial gulf on reparations than on any issue ever surveyed. While roughly half of African Americans expressed some support for the idea (numbers varied depending on how the question was worded), upward of 95 percent of white respondents expressed opposition, often vehemently. What the movement did not produce was actual reparations. Resubmitted annually, H.R. 40 has yet to secure the votes necessary to move it out of committee and onto the floor of the House. Litigation has fared no better. The various suits filed against corporations were consolidated into a single case in 2004 and heard by the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Illinois, which promptly dismissed them on a variety of procedural grounds, including plaintiffs’ failure to establish standing and the expiration of relevant statutes of limitations.21
Yet if the reparations movement of the 1990s and early 2000s failed to achieve its stated objective, it did not prove entirely fruitless. In 2002 Chicago became the first of a dozen major American cities to adopt a municipal slavery disclosure ordinance, requiring all firms doing business with the city to investigate their historical records and disclose any ties to slavery. Perhaps more important, the ferment over reparations prompted a cascade of voluntary disclosures by private actors, including not only universities but also churches, corporations, and newspapers, acknowledging and in some cases offering amends for their complicity in slavery. Perhaps the most thoroughgoing self-examination came from the Hartford Courant, the nation’s oldest continually published newspaper. Exploring the paper’s archives for background material about Aetna Insurance, a Hartford company named as a defendant in an early reparations lawsuit, reporters were startled to discover evidence of the Courant’s own ties to slavery, including the publishing of runaway notices and advertisements for slave auctions. Editors responded to the discovery with a front-page editorial, “Courant Complicity in an Old Wrong,” formally apologizing for the paper’s involvement “in the terrible practice of buying and selling human beings.” They also produced a special issue, subsequently expanded into a book, detailing their city’s and state’s previously unacknowledged debts to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.22
It was against this backdrop of rising interest in historical redress and roiling controversy over reparations that universities confronted the slavery question. The range of institutional responses can be gauged by the experiences of Yale and Brown, the campuses where the issue first broke. In 2002 a group of Yale graduate students published “Yale, Slavery, and Abolition,” an online report exposing previously unacknowledged aspects of the university’s relationship to slavery.23 Cast as a response to a celebratory official history published by Yale on the occasion of its 2001 tricentennial, the report was also a salvo in a bitter labor dispute between the university and graduate students attempting to form a union, a circumstance that doubtless contributed to the report’s distinctly adversarial tone. While attracting some media attention, the Yale report prompted neither sustained campus dialogue nor any substantive response from the school’s administration.24
At Brown too the slavery issue came to campus amid controversy, but with very different results. In early 2001 David Horowitz, a conservative columnist, submitted a paid advertisement to several college newspapers, including the Brown Daily Herald, deriding the idea of slavery reparations. Entitled “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea—and Racist Too,” the ad offered a litany of arguments, at least some of which appear to have been calculated to provoke a reaction from students: that African Americans had benefited from slavery; that they lacked gratitude to “the nation that gave them freedom”; that they had already received reparations in the form of welfare checks and affirmative action; that whatever racial disparities existed in the United States were a product not of history but of black people’s own “failures of individual character.” If Horowitz’s object was indeed to incite controversy, he got his wish at Brown, where a group of students demanded that the Daily Herald retract the ad. When editors refused, the students stationed themselves at the paper’s distribution points and made off with an entire day’s press run.25
The theft of the newspapers at Brown ignited a media firestorm. Stories appeared in papers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor and on news networks like Fox, MSNBC, and even the BBC, typically accompanied by editorial comment condemning Brown for its betrayal of fundamental principles of free speech. The fact that the controversy revolved around the racially charged issue of slavery added fuel to the fire. Not only had Brown already been identified as a “probable target” of a reparations lawsuit; it had also, just weeks before, announced the appointment of a new president, Ruth Simmons, who on her accession that fall would become the first African American to lead an Ivy League institution.
Given the circumstances Simmons faced—the rancorous atmosphere left by the advertisement and the theft of the papers, the threat of future litigation, the special scrutiny she faced not only as a new president but also as a black woman—one might have expected her to give the slavery issue a wide berth. She chose the opposite course. She dedicated her first speech as president, delivered at that fall’s Convocation, to the recent campus controversy, reminding new freshmen that the university was a “quarrelsome enterprise” whose survival depended on preserving the widest possible scope for the expression and exchange of ideas, even ideas that they found erroneous or gratuitously hurtful. “If you come to this place for comfort,” she said, pointing to the university gates through which the entering class had just ceremonially processed, “I would urge you to walk to yon iron gate, pass through the portal and never look back.”26
But Simmons’s response went beyond mere rhetoric. Determined to show students the possibility and value of reasoned, academically rigorous dialogue on even the most controversial issues, she appointed the University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. Composed of faculty, students, and administrators, the committee was asked not only to investigate and publicly disclose Brown’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade but also to reflect on the meaning and significance of that history in the present. In particular, Simmons charged the committee “to organize events and activities that might help the nation and the Brown community think deeply, seriously and rigorously about the questions” posed by the raging national debate over slavery reparations. Reparations, she acknowledged, was a highly fraught topic “about which men and women of good will may ultimately disagree,” but it was also a topic on which Brown, by virtue of its own history, “had a special obligation and a special opportunity” to provide intellectual leadership.27
The Brown committee released its final report, with recommendations, in 2006. By that time, several other prominent American universities had launched ventures of their own. Doubtless they were encouraged by the example of Brown, but equally critical was the comprehensive defeat of slavery reparations litigation in federal court in 2004, which alleviated fears that whatever information institutions uncovered would promptly be used against them in court. Today, more than fifteen years after the first ventures were launched, more than forty universities have formally addressed the slavery question, and others seem poised to follow. We may be entering an era in which publicly disclosing historical ties to slavery and the slave trade will not seem outlandish at all but rather a basic institutional responsibility. At such a time as this, it seems worthwhile to survey the field, to consider what we have learned and what it means.
On August 20, 2018, as this book went to press, protesters at the University of North Carolina toppled Silent Sam from his perch atop the Confederate monument on McCorkle Place, deliberately defying a 2015 state law prohibiting the removal, relocation, or alteration of any historical monument or marker on public land.
What will come of this remains unclear. At this writing, more than a dozen people have been arrested for their role in the toppling or in the protests and counterprotests that followed. Sam remains in university custody, held at an undisclosed location while state officials debate his fate. By the letter of the 2015 law, the statue must be restored to its original location—or to a site of “similar prominence, honor, visibility … and access”—within ninety days. Pundits and politicians have weighed in, some decrying the triumph of “mob rule” at UNC, others asking why a monument explicitly dedicated to white supremacy had been allowed to shadow a campus for so long.
If monuments are assertions, statements by one generation to those that follow, the bare pedestal on which Sam once stood has become a question, a symbol of so much that remains unresolved in the history of the American nation, and of American universities in particular. What better introduction to the essays that follow.
1. David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2001); Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997). See also Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh, eds., The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), especially James McPherson, “Long-Legged Yankee Lies: The Southern Textbook Crusade.” On neo-Confederate renderings of the Reconstruction era, see Claude G. Bowers, The Tragic Era: The Revolution after Lincoln (Cambridge: Houghton Mifflin, 1929).
2. Moeser’s speech is quoted in Renee Ater, “The Challenge of Memorializing Slavery in North Carolina: The Unsung Founders Memorial and the North Carolina Freedom Monument Project,” in Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Space, ed. Ana Lucia Araujo (New York: Routledge, 2012). A virtual version of the Slavery and the Making of the University exhibition can be found at https://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/exhibits/show/slavery.
3. The text of Carr’s speech is available at http://hgreen.people.ua.edu/transcription-carr-speech.html.
4. The “Yale, Slavery and Abolition” report is available at http://www.yaleslavery.org/YSA.pdf. For information on Brown, see http://www.brown.edu/Research/Slavery_Justice. On Emory, see http://emoryhistory.emory.edu/issues/discrimination/transforming-community-project.html. The circumstances that led to the apology at Alabama are recounted in Alfred L. Brophy, “The University and Its Slaves: Apology and Its Meaning,” in The Age of Apology: Facing Up to the Past, ed. Mark Gibney et al. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).
5. All of the cited initiatives have websites. See https://www.wm.edu/sites/lemonproject; http://slavery.virginia.edu;https://slavery.princeton.edu; https://www.harvard.edu/slavery; https://columbiaandslavery.columbia.edu; http://slavery.georgetown.edu; and http://dcicblog.umd.edu/legacyofslaveryinmaryland/. At several institutions, student researchers played a leading role. See, for example, Sven Beckert, Katherine Stevens, and students of the Harvard and Slavery Research Seminar, “Harvard and Slavery: Seeking a Forgotten History” (Cambridge, Mass., 2011) and Students of History 429, “Knowing Our History: African American Slavery and the University of Maryland” (University of Maryland, College Park, 2009).
6. For introductions to the burgeoning literature on slavery and universities, see Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013); and Alfred L. Brophy, University, Court, and Slave: Pro-slavery Thought in Southern Courts and Colleges and the Coming of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
7. Rachel Swarns, “272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown: What Does It Owe Their Descendants?,” New York Times, April 16, 2016.
8. See Renee Jeffrey, “When Is an Apology Not an Apology? Contrition Chic and Japan’s (Un)apologetic Politics,” Australian Journal of International Affairs 65, no. 5 (2011): 607–17.
9. For overviews, see David B. Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); and Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998). On slavery in New York, see Ira Berlin and Leslie M. Harris, eds., Slavery in New York (New York: New Press, 2005); Harris, In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626–1863 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003); and David Gellman, Emancipating New York: The Politics of Slavery and Freedom, 1777–1827 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006).
10. Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, eds., Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). On slave-owning presidents, see http://hauensteincenter.org/slaveholding. On slavery in the Roman Empire, see Walter Scheidel, “The Roman Slave Supply,” in Cambridge World History of Slavery, ed. Keith Bradley and Paul Cartledge (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
11. On slave traders in the Brown Corporation, see Brenda Allen et al., Slavery and Justice: Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice (Providence, R.I.: Brown University, 2006), 12. On the auction at Princeton, see https://slavery.princeton.edu/sources/two-women-a-man-and-three-children. For a reflection on the Royall Chair at Harvard, see Janet Halley, “My Isaac Royall Legacy,” Harvard Black-Letter Law Journal 24, no. 117 (2008): 117–31. The Georgetown case has become a major national news story; see, for example, Swarns, “272 Slaves.” On the Washington College debate, see Alfred L. Brophy, “Debating Slavery and Empire in the Washington College Literary Societies,” Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice 22, no. 2 (2016): 273–86. On the Well Project at Virginia Commonwealth, see https://emsw.vcu.edu.
12. The Oberlin and Harvard cases are discussed in the essays that follow.
13. On southern universities and slavery, see Brophy, University, Court, and Slave. For the Preston Brooks episode, see “Another Cane for Mr. Brooks,” Richmond Enquirer, May 30, 1856.
14. Recent decades have produced a burgeoning scholarly literature on problems of historical redress. For a sampling, see Elazar Barkan, The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices (New York: Norton, 2000); Martha Minow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998); Erin Daly and Jeremy Sarkin, Reconciliation in Divided Societies: Finding Common Ground (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); Mark Gibney et al., eds., The Age of Apology: Facing Up to the Past (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); Pablo de Greiff, ed., The Handbook of Reparations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Priscilla B. Hayner, Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions (New York: Routledge, 2001); Robert Rotberg and Dennis Thompson, eds., Truth v. Justice: The Making of Truth Commissions (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000); Tristan Anne Borer, ed., Telling the Truths: Truth Telling and Peace Building in Post-conflict Societies (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2006); Ruth Rubio-Marin, What Happened to the Women: Gender and Reparations for Human Rights Violations (New York: Social Sciences Research Council, 2006); and James Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994).
15. See Charles Taylor et al., Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994). On the historical origins of the trauma paradigm, see Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (New York: Basic Books, 1992).
16. John Torpey, Making Whole What Has Been Smashed: On Reparations Politics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006), 24. See also Charles Maier, “A Surfeit of Memory? Reflections on History, Melancholy, and Denial,” History and Memory 5, no. 2 (1993): 13–51. For critiques from the Right, see Robert Hughes, The Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); and David Horowitz, Uncivil Wars: The Controversy over Reparations for Slavery (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002).
17. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1982). On the history of the redress movement, see Peter Irons, Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases (New York, 1983); Leslie T. Hatamiya, Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and the Passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993); and Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2007).
18. Brian Weiner, Sins of the Parents: The Politics of National Apologies in the United States (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005), 68, 72, 82, 165–66, 190n13. See also Roy L. Brooks, ed., When Sorry Isn’t Enough: The Controversy over Apologies and Reparations for Human Injustice (New York: New York University Press, 1999); and Melissa Nobles, The Politics of Official Apologies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008). On the Bureau of Indian Affairs apology, see Rebecca Tsosie, “The BIA’s Apology to Native Americans: An Essay on Collective Memory and Collective Conscience,” in Taking Wrongs Seriously: Apologies and Reconciliation, ed. Elazar Barkan and Alexander Karn (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2006), 185–212. On state-level truth commissions, see David S. Cecelski and Timothy Tyson, eds., Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot and Its Legacy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); Alfred L. Brophy, Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Riot of 1921—Race, Reparations and Reconciliation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); and Brophy, “The Tulsa Race Riot Commission, Apology, and Reparation: Understanding the Functions and Limitations of a Historical Truth Commission,” in Barkan and Karn, Taking Wrongs Seriously, 234–258. On Rosewood, see Florida Board of Regents, A Documented History of the Incident Which Occurred at Rosewood, Florida, in January, 1923 (Tallahassee: Florida Board of Regents, 1993).
19. On the early 2000s slavery reparations debate, see Alfred Brophy, Reparations: Pro and Con (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Raymond A. Winbush, Should America Pay: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations (New York: Amistad, 2003); Michael T. Martin and Marilyn Yaquinto, eds., Redress for Historical Injustices in the United States: On Reparations for Slavery, Jim Crow, and Their Legacies (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007); and Randall Robinson, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks (New York: Dutton, 2000). For earlier episodes, see LaWanda Cox, “The Promise of Land for the Freedmen,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 45, no. 2 (1958): 413–40; Mary Frances Berry, My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-slave Reparations (New York: Knopf, 2005); and Boris I. Bittker, The Case for Black Reparations (New York: Random House, 1973). The quotation comes from the “Black Manifesto,” adopted by the Black National Economic Conference in 1969; see James Forman et al., Black Manifesto: Religion, Race, and Reparations (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1969).
20. In re: African American Slave Descendants Litigation, 2004 U.S. Dist. Lexis 872 (N.D. Ill. 2004). For the suits against the federal government, see Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103 (9th Cir. 1995) and Berry v. United States, 1994 U.S. Dist. Lexis 9665 (N.D. Cal. 1994). On the Nazi forced labor litigation, see Michael J. Bazyler, Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America’s Courts (New York: New York University Press, 2003). On threats of litigation against universities, see Charles Ogletree, “Litigating the Legacy of Slavery,” New York Times, March 31, 2002.
21. Contemporary polls on popular attitudes toward slavery reparations include Michael C. Dawson and Rovana Popoff, “Reparations: Justice and Greed in Black and White,” Du Bois Review 1, no. 1 (2004): 47–91; and U.S.A. Today, February 22, 2002. For a more recent poll, see https://ropercenter.cornell.edu/12810-2/. On the dismissal of reparations litigation by the federal court, see In re: African American Slave Descendants Litigation. The case was reheard in 2005, with the same result; see 375 F.Supp. 2d 721 (N.D. Ill. 2005).
22. Chicago, Illinois, Municipal Code § 2-92-585. One of the first significant disclosures prompted by the new ordinance came from J. P. Morgan Bank, which acknowledged having accepted, through two predecessor banks in Louisiana, some thirteen thousand enslaved African Americans as collateral for loans, some 10 percent of whom became the bank’s property when borrowers defaulted. See “J. P. Morgan Discloses Past Links to Slavery,” Washington Post, January 21, 2005. On the Hartford Courant, see Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank, Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery (New York: Ballantine Books, 2005). For the original apology, see the Courant, July 4, 2000. For the special issue, see the Courant, September 29, 2002.
23. The New York Times published an article on the report on August 13, 2001; see http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/13/nyregion/slave-traders-in-yale-s-past-fuel-debate-on-restitution.html.
25. David Horowitz, “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea—and Racist Too,” Brown Daily Herald, March 13, 2001, https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:40830/.
26. Simmons’s convocation address is at http://www.brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/2001-02/01-014t.html.
27. Simmons’s charge to the committee is available at http://brown.edu/Research/Slavery_Justice/about/charge.html.