Georgetown University, the oldest Jesuit institution of learning in the United States, announced Sept. 1 that it will provide preference in admissions to the descendants of slaves owned by Maryland Jesuits to atone for the school's early role in slavery.
The school’s history with slavery traces back to 1838, when its two presidents at the time sold 272 men, women and children to plantations in Louisiana in order to pay off outstanding debts. The sale amounted to a total $115,000 (approximately $3.3 million today) to support the school in exchange for the labor of enslaved people.
The transaction was one of the most heavily documented sales of enslaved people in American history, and many records of the sale have been archived in Georgetown University’s own Slavery Archive. Utilizing these resources, organizations such as the Eastern Washington Geneological Society and the Georgetown Memory Project have been able to successfully identify up to 200 of the slaves sold nearly 200 years ago, and believe there could be thousands of surviving descendants in America today.
With these unique resources at their disposal, Georgetown has officially announced it will be offering preferential treatment to the descendants of families in the original sale. In his announcement to the public, president John J. DeGioia explained the school will provide descendants "the same consideration we give members of the Georgetown community" when they apply, meaning applicants will be treated with the same preference as faculty, staff, and alumni.
The campus itself will also recognize the sale, as the two buildings once named for the presidents that initiated the transaction will now commemorate Isaac, the first enslaved person mentioned in the sale, as well as Anne Marie Becraft, a free woman of color who founded a school for black girls in the neighborhood of Georgetown in 1827.
According to DeGioia, this is not the end to reforms on the Georgetown campus or the benefits of the reform.
“Quite the contrary,” he told The Washington Post. “What we’ve been able to do is develop a road map to open up Georgetown to be a university in new kinds of ways.”