New Study Reveals That Harvard University’s Leadership and Staff Enslaved At Least 70 People

harvard campus
A view of the statue of John Harvard on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Image: Fan Lin/Xinhua/Getty

Harvard University has released a report describing the school’s historic ties to the United States’s slave trade.

Lawrence Bacow, President of Harvard University convened a committee in 2019 that included representatives from all the schools on campus. The representatives were then asked to assist in the examination of the university’s role in U.S. slavery.

The committee’s work was to have a “strong grounding in rigorous research and critical perspectives that will inform not only our understanding of facts but also how we might address the ramifications of what we learn,” Bacow commented at the time.

According to the new report, the committee discovered that the Harvard faculty and staff enslaved at least 70 people “from the school’s founding in 1636 to the banning of slavery in Massachusetts in 1783.”

The enslaved peoples resided on the school’s campus and provided care for Harvard’s past presidents, professors, and those within the student body. Additionally, the report found that many of the university’s donors gained their wealth directly from their involvement in the slave trade that spanned from the 17th through the 19th centuries.

Some donors deployed labor from enslaved people in the American South and throughout the Caribbean. Others produced their wealth by selling their goods to plantations and in the textile industry, the donors procured cotton that was grown on slave plantations

“During the first half of the 19th century, more than a third of the money donated or promised to Harvard by private individuals came from just five men who made their fortunes from slavery and slave-produced commodities,” the report said.

During the era that the labor of the enslaved was used, Harvard also taught eugenics which is an ideology of intentional breeding to create a pure human race.

Dudley Allen Sargent, director of Harvard’s Hemenway Gymnasium from 1879 to 1919, “implemented a ‘physical education’ program that involved intrusive physical examinations, anthropometric measurements, and the photographing of unclothed Harvard and Radcliffe students,” according to the study.

In response to the findings, Harvard will be taking the next steps to make amends for its involvement in the slave trade which includes monetary reparations for Black and Indigenous students who are descendants of enslaved persons in the U.S.

“The profound harm caused by the university’s entanglements with slavery and its legacies cannot be valued in monetary terms alone,” the study said. “Nevertheless, financial expenditures are a necessary predicate to and foundation for redress.”

A new endowment called “The Legacy of Slavery Fund” will be “strategically invested to support the implementation of these recommendations,” the report said.

Harvard will also partner with HBCUs through various initiatives, such as “appointing visiting HBCU professors to Harvard for one year and subsidizing summer, semester, or yearlong studies at Harvard for HBCU students.”

Harvard plans to identify Black and Indigenous students who are direct descendants of people enslaved in the United States.

“We further recommend that, in recognition of this lineage, the university engage with these descendants through dialogue, programming, information sharing, relationship building, and educational support,” the institution’s study said.

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