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The Sale of Slaves and Georgetown University: A Conversation About History, Race, and Justice

  • t. Clare Room, Harrington Learning Commons Santa Clara, CA USA (map)

In 1838, the Jesuit priests running Georgetown University sold 272 African-American slaves and then used the proceeds of the sale to keep the then-struggling university afloat. The news of this sale was long known, but blasted into public view after the publication in 2016 of a powerful story in the The New York Times. Marcia Chatelain will recount the enslavement and sale of men, women, and children, and with Kevin O’Brien will discuss Georgetown University’s efforts in recent years to confront and make amends for this history. Nancy Unger will bring her expertise in American history to the conversation. 

What do those in the present owe to oppressed of the past and to their descendants? How is an institution accountable for the actions of its past leaders? How do we hear the voices and see the lives of those who were enslaved and sold in order to preserve their memory for its own sake and to allow the injustice of the past to transform the present? What ethical lessons can we learn today from this agonizing memory and from this effort to make amends? 

Panelists: Moderator: Margaret Russell, SCU Law; Marcia Chatelain, associate professor, History and African American Studies, Georgetown University; Kevin O’Brien, S.J., Dean, SCU and former vice president for Mission and Ministry, Georgetown University; and Nancy Unger, professor and chair, SCU History Department.