Harvard University has taken another step toward distancing the modern institution from its past ties with slavery. The Boston Globe reports that university president Drew Faust acknowledged on Wednesday that Harvard was complicit in slavery.
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“Although we embrace and regularly celebrate the storied traditions of our nearly 400-year history, slavery is an aspect of Harvard’s past that has rarely been acknowledged or invoked,” Faust wrote in an op-ed published in the Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper.
This comes just weeks after Harvard Law School announced it would replace its shield that included elements from the family crest of a slave owner who gave money to the university.
She announced a plan to unveil a plaque on April 6 that will honor four slaves who worked and lived in the campus home of a former Harvard president.
The Harvard Crimson said the plaque will display their names—Bilhah, Venus, Titus and Juba—and be placed at Wadsworth House, which was the former president’s home. Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) will join Faust at the installation ceremony.
“Until now, these laborers and their contributions, as well as the broader participation of people of color in early life at Harvard, have been all but invisible,” Faust wrote. “The plaque is the beginning of an effort to remember them and our shared history.”
In her op-ed, Faust, a historian who specializes in the Civil War and the South, explained that Harvard was “directly complicit” in slavery for a long period. Harvard’s involvement began from the time it was established in 1636 through Massachusetts’ abolition of slavery in 1783.
But it didn’t end there. She said the university continued an “indirect involvement through extensive financial and other ties” to the South up to emancipation.
Faust stated, “This is our history and our legacy, one we must fully acknowledge and understand in order to truly move beyond the painful injustices at its core.”
The Globe said the university’s professors and students applauded her announcement. But some said awarding a plaque isn’t enough. Senior Sarah Cole told the Boston Globe that the plaque is inadequate. What’s more, placing it where four human beings were enslaved is disrespectful.
Cole, who is Black, said the university should change the name of buildings that honor those involved in slavery and start a fund for descendants of slaves.