Georgetown is one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the entire world, and it is the first Jesuit and Catholic university in the country. And recently, it’s been trying to make amends for a dark chapter in its history.
Georgetown has produced a United States President, two Supreme Court justices, more than 20 Rhodes scholars and an NCAA championship basketball team.
That last item is most curious though, considering that 1984 team was coached by Hall-of-Famer John Thompson, the first African-American coach ever to win the title. A little less than 150 years earlier, Georgetown sold a group of slaves that would come to the small town of Maringouin, located just west of the Louisiana capitol.
Dozens of acres of land, mostly sugar cane fields, are owned by the descendants of 272 slaves buried there in a small cemetery. Many of those slaves were bought and sold by the priests at Georgetown University.
“When I got the call telling me that there were names of slaves that were sold from Georgetown, that some of them were probably my relatives. As soon as he mentioned the name Cornelius Hawkins, I said this is for real,” Maxine Crump, the great-great granddaughter of Neely Hawkins, one of the slaves sold By Georgetown. Hawkins died in 1902 at the age of 70.
Crump and her sister, Michelle Harrington, continued to uncover long-buried ancestral information which might have never been discovered.
Enter Georgetown University itself.
The university has acknowledged and embraced the debt it owes these folks, and is doing something tangible about it.
Georgetown president John DeGioia actually traveled to Maringouin, Louisiana, and walked the fields where the slaves worked and later purchased, and later still, passed it down to their descendants.
“To be able to walk this ground, which was once walked by some of the 272 that were sold in 1838 and to be able to experience this place is part of me trying to understand how best to bring immediacy of all of this into our current reality,” DeGioia said.
The president announced the University’s plans to make amends. Among the reparations, the school will offer priority admissions to the descendants of the slaves it sold.
“They are stepping up and admitting that that was wrong, and that they are researching it to see how it all played out and continuing to look all the way to the descendants so that that impact can be see,” Crump said. “Because, recently and for a long time, I think most of America thinks slavery was the past and what happens now to those descendants–it doesn’t even exist. We are being told we should be over it. However, Georgetown is recognizing that this is a continuum and we’re a part of it.”
Georgetown University continues to work with historians around the country in an attempt to locate other descendants of the slaves sold to fund the university.