Friday, September 09, 2016

Georgetown's Shameful Past

You may have heard that one of America's prestigious universities, Georgetown, is attempting to make amends for a terrible wrong of the 19th century. Georgetown is in Washington D.C. and is one of the country's oldest institutions of higher learning. Before emancipation Georgetown had slaves to do much of the menial work. In the 1830s 275 of these slaves were sold to Southern plantations, which were notoriously crueler and harsher places of work. Families were dispersed to various plantations and the labour all but guaranteed shorter life spans. To make this even more disturbing, Georgetown was a Jesuit university, so the ownership and sale of these slaves was sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church. The school was on the brink of bankruptcy  at that time and the sale was an ungodly godsend, roughly 3.3 million in today's dollars.

Thanks to pressure from students Georgetown will apologize for this sinful behaviour and offer breaks on tuition to the descendants of the slaves. Many are contending that this isn't nearly enough by way of reparations.

This blot of the institution's reputation brings to mind our ongoing efforts in Canada to make right the egregious wrongs of with First Nations peoples. Here it has been a combination of apologies, including by the churches involved in Residential Schools, reparations, commissions, and promises to change our culture. We're still not sure where we are going and what the outcome will be.

Were you aware of the Georgetown situation? Are you shocked to discover that a religious order owned slaves? What needs to happen, and when is enough enough?

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