tv University Presidents Discuss the Legacy of Slavery CSPAN January 3, 2017 12:31am-12:59am EST
the point where my team can benefit, and the people that we purchase from can benefit. that is a great opportunity. we will see how far we can take this thing. if all collapses, it's on my shoulders. jeffrey: you could still go back and cook. they do so much. we have now more from the washington ideas forum. cohosted byas "atlantic" magazine. it is about half an hour. [applause] host: this is a thrill for me. i was joking as we were coming down the stair ways that 20 minutes is not enough time. i won't say by who. it's just enough time for a
person to not get into trouble. we are at this point in our history around the country, but i think particularly at colleges and universities, more specifically where folks are having to at last reckon with the long effects of history. i think there is no problem with reckoning with the effects of history when those things reflect well upon us but now we are being forced to reckon with some of the things that don't necessarily reflect well. we can see this in some of the name changing requested at various universities because maybe things are named after slaveholders. they have been taking down the confederate flag. we can definitely see that in georgetown.
i wonder if you would talk us through what in fact is happening and to reconcile them. >> thank you. thank you very much. it's an honor to be with both of you. we had a tragic moment in the early years of our history that we have been trying to come to terms with. in 1838, the priests in maryland on plantations in 1838 arranged a transaction to sell 272, virtually all of them to a landowner in louisiana. with that sale, some of the proceeds were sent to georgetown and we benefitted through that sale and the institution of slavery. host: do you have a translation for what the dollar was then? about transaction was $115,000, it would be about $1.3 million today.
was 25,000, int which we received 17,000. that would be worth about $5,000 -- $500,000 today. we did not think that was a butvant number for us, about two years ago we began this work internally of trying to come to turns -- terms and reconcile us with history and it was inspired by the fact that we had a building named for the person responsible for this transaction. we were renovating the building and there was not a person in the alumni body who could tell you the name of the building, but we knew it had a name and we needed to come to terms with it. the history was well-known. we had a digital website that
descendents have used in the past attract and genealogy but we knew we had a new moment to engage the community in a different way. that is what we have been engaged in over the last three years. host: what prompted things to go further? >> in our case, what was in folding in our country. we made a decision in the summer and015 on slavery reconciliation. ask gold continue to externally in our nation, we made a decision in february, and we had a townhall and gave a talk on slavery and georgetown response, and that launched another body of work. justd reconciliation, the
released its report. we have another body that is about racial justice and that is determining how we can engage with the community with these questions. if you would just outline the commitments that have been so far. >> yeah. you know, the, easy ones, we made it decision last fall to take names off the building. we made decisions over the course of the next several months to put names on the buildings. one will be named for the first name, isaac hawkins, who's the first name on the manifest of the 272 enslaved children, women and men who were sold. the other is named for a free woman of color who was a woman religious, who lived in the georgetown neighborhood and provided an extraordinary witness during the time in which this all occurred. and that was step one.
the one that's probably gotten the most attention has been a decision that we would regard the children of descendants in the same way we would regard those who have an enduring relationship with our community. these are faculty, staff, a alumni who have sustained an enduring relationship and in the course of our process of determining undergraduate andssions, we give care attention in a special way to those folks. it's not determinetive in any way. we are a very selective institution, so i don't want to overstate what it means, but it was an effort to show the kind of respect we think appropriate in this moment. host: one of the immediate arguments i heard from that was fine, that's a great step. but what about actual cash support for the stuptdents who might take advantage of that?
it gets a little lost in the complexity of financial institutions. we are need blind when we make decisions and we meet full need for our students. so anyone who's admitted to our university, we don't know their ability to pay when we make the decision to admit them, then we're committed to covering their full cost. we would continue that process with every student who would be admitted. we've had descendants who have been admitted. alumni who were descendants. i couldn't tell you whether they were on financial aid or not. it's determination based on need. host: at harvard, how have you dealt with this discussion? >> there are interesting contrast between our two institutions. we're both venerable. we have been around for a long time. we were part of the nation when
slavery was embedded in the fabric of the united states, but harvard being in new england, often was part of a new england consciousness that after the civil war sort of said, oh, we didn't have anything to do with slavery. but as you know as an active historian, in recrept decades, there's been much more attention to the presence and strength of slavery's influence in the new england colonies and states. slavery was legal in massachusetts until 1783, so although we have not yet discovered a moment that's as dramatic as with one you have described, we are increasingly aware of how slavery was as part of the every day life of massachusetts in the colonial area and harvard in the colonial era. we are also aware of how the economic engine that slavery represented for the nation as a whole up to the civil war cotton was the number one export of the united states up to the civil
war. was an economic engine for massachusetts for many people connected with harvard and therefore, supported harvard in a variety of ways. we are exploring that and trying to understand what was the place of slavery in building the institution we have today. what were the contributions made by slaves to harvard's past? and trying to dig that out. we were able to find in some research done by students, actually, the names of four individuals who worked in the households of harvard presidents. this was in the 18th century. last spring, we put a plaque on a building, memorializing those individuals and their contributions as a kind of first step in enshrining the history of slavery in harvard's understanding of itself. we don't have the extensive records, at least so far, we have not found them, that
georgetown has, because those records were really generated by business concerns. these were -- >> and catholics keep unbelievably good records. [laughter] >> we've got birth certificates, baptisms, communions. it's a combination. >> but slavery being more economically incidental within the massachusetts economy has not left the same abundance of written records, so we, i've appointed a committee of faculty historians of various specialties to advise on caring forward further research on the history of slavery at harvard. we're going to have a conference in march at harvard on slavery and universities. i have the privilege of visiting the african-american history museum last week and i was so struck by a quotation by james
baldwin, which said it's not about the past, it's so embedded in us in who we are in every day. that, to me, is an essential part of understanding where we came from and how we build a future that creates students, faculty, citizens, who have the self-consciousness about the possibilities of evil and injustice. that we can learn through seeing how our ancestors made choices f -- of the kind they did. [applause] >> one of the challenges we have found, we've known our history. documented this history. books of been written about it. websites. when we announced this working group last september, it came as a surprise to people we had this history. it was incredible to acknowledge how we need to keep this alive so it's part of the formation of
each of our students, of our community. as we move forward, we took for granted we knew this part of our history and it was informing the way in which we were accepting our responsibilities in this moment. and that was both a surprise and a disappointment for us. host: i want to ask you guys just a little, slightly more abstract question. there is obviously direct responsibility whichouuys have spoken to. you know, certain universities in terms of enslavement, but if you think about the epic of enslavement enslavement, it's as though you look at a bomb blast. everything that happens as a result of the blast afterward and if we can follow that rather tortured metaphor through, that redline,jim crow and and all of the evils that arise from slavery in if they are not from slavery proper.
as heads of universities and institutions that had such a prime role in shaping the leadership class in this country, what is the responsibility of universities like georgetown and harvard, the policy, even if it's not a direct transaction? certainly, the outsized influence of those in terms of american leadership and policies is there. it occurs to me you guys are eshed even if it's not a direct action. what's the responsibility there. >> we've been wrestling with that question. the deepest conviction we have is how can we best respond this this moment to those fundamental elements. we engage in the formation of young people. support the inquiry of our faculty and as institutions, we contribute to the common good of the communities in which we're a part. as we wrestle with those responsibilities, how can we today respond in this immediate moment to the enduring legacy, the manifestations in this moment of the fact that we never
ameliorated the original evil of slavery with emancipation, or reconstruction, jim crow. we are still living with the manifestations of that original evil, and how can we as universities respond in this moment in ways that ensure we're doing everything to build a new kind of context moving forward. >> i would say a word about the history of universities, since the end of the 19th century when the research university replaced the college as instrument of higher education in united states. i think there grew a sense there shouldn't be any value judgments associated, not caolic schools ever, but in the rest of higher education. a kind of removal from commitment to values.
we are just going to be objective scientists investigating whatever field we're in. and i believe in the last decade or perhaps a little more, there recognitionreasing that there is no void in which you take objective inquiry. that there have to be certain commitments within which knowledge is pursued and transmitted and that as institutions we have to commit ourselves to undertaking our work and forming young people within the sets of commitments to justice, to truth, to values that matter to us as a society. in a way, we're taking a lesson from something your institution, georgetown and others, have not abandoned in quite the way many research universities did. so i'm a big advocate of making sure we want to know things.
what is the largest purpose of this knowledge and what kind of students do we want to send out in the world? we just want -- we don't want to send them out like automatons. we want to educate them in the largest context in which whatever field they're pursuing will be practiced and so, i think we have a huge responsibility to attend to these many, many issues in the field of race relations in the aftermath of slavery, but in a number of other dimensions of injustice and social crisis as well. [applause] can i ask you guys to drill down a little bit more? maybe it is an abstract question, but how does that look? is this how people teach? this is the answer in my head. i think about georgetown as a powerful, powerful institution in washington, d.c. i was up near howard recently and the demographics of the
neighborhood around howard have changed quite a bit. one of the reasons they have changed is that the population, certain people left because they wanted to leave, they wanted to live somewhere else, that the difference in wealth is obvious. the difference in the abilities of people to remain in neighbors -- neighborhoods they may have loved is very obvious. and you don't have to go through all of this today, but all that didn't come out of nowhere. when you think about georgetown, what's the responsibility to the broader state? to the specic citizens here? >> give you one quick example. we set up a center for health despairties right near the navy yard about four years ago under the leadership of lucille adams campbell. we brought her over from howard. a great cancer researcher. host: damn you. [laughter]
>> under her leadership, we've connected to our medal center. we just did a survey for the city on health disparities and the findings are so wrenching in this moment in 2016, that the difference in life expectancy between an african-american man and white men in 2016 is 15 years. eight for women. we have a responsibleility to try to contribute to addressing that challenge. it's one example. we've committed to setting up an institute for the study of slavery and its legacy, a center for racial justice, how we intend to respond as we move forward. but whether it's in health care, access to educational opportunities. whether it's in trying to help address the impact of gentrification that's occurring across our city. we believe we have a role and a
responsibility to play in informing that work and perhaps contributing meaningful responses. >> i would say similar responses from harvard. we have a housing clinic that our law school runs and many law students learn how to be activists and bringing justice to housing issues, keeping people from being affected and etc., through that clinic. our school of education is very involved in the boston schools and we have numbers of programs that bring students to harvard to help give them preparation for college. early childhood programs in the city, being involved in our communities but also being involved more broadly than simply in the boston community with ways of opening access and trying to mitigate some of the kinds of disadvantage and inequality you're speaking of. our school public health, similar things to what you're describing. we feel a definite obligation and responsibility to use our
knowledge and service of the communities in which we find ourselves and sometimes, that's a world community. paul farmer's work in haiti. sometimes, it's a very local community. host: i don't want to overstate the power like georgetown or harvard has, but what responsibility do you have and i know i'm talking a lot about responsibility. that's what the conversation is ultimately about. what responsibilities do you have to urge other institutions who you, on some level, i'm not saying you control them or anything like that, but what responsibility do you have to urge other institutions to do that? what responsibility do you have push other institutions to do that work? >> i think embedded in both of our responses a moment ago is the fact we will often work with other kinds of organizations and community and city agencies and
the like. we can't do it alone as universities, so finding those partnerships is important. think also, you should know the conversations taking place on both our campuses are reflected in many other campuses and we're part of an organization, universities studying slavery. we have both the university of virginia and william and mary. both provided leadership and establishing this as an academic project across higher education. and i think embedded in groups -- the earlier comment, we are in a moment of extraordinary scholarship. some of the greatest scholarship we have ever seen built on the foundation of some other great scholarships in the mid 1850s, which you've written beautifully about. this is an incredible moment for our institutions. we are exploring those ways in which we can find new ways of being a university. by engaging these questions in
the most serious way. that, we'vedd to been talking about what we do as institutions, but of course, one of our fundamental, if not the fundamental commitment of the university is teaching. it is the kind of students we educate to take up those roles and become the influencers and the leaders themselves. so, i think we need to recognize the ways -- we were just proceeded on the stage here by sylvia mathews burwell who i , proudly claim as a harvard alum, who's doing all this work in health care and despairties through her secretaryship. so, those kinds of contributions through the people who leave us and take their work and their education to new heights beyond the institutions we are a part of. host: i want to ask you to do something. i don't know if you guys know, the president of harvard, that comes with a kind of esteem, but
this is one of our finest living historians to our mind. [applause] host: she's part of why i'm here having this conversation with her right now, so it's been a little hard to not fan boy out. not going to do it, guys, i promise. i will save it for backstage. >> that makes my month. year. life. host: but i do want you to just to take a moment. jack, i know you did a little bit of this. if you could put on your historian hat. how did we get here? this is the result of the work that began in the 1960's, when folks began to revise these sort of narratives about slavery. how did we get to the point? those of us, i include myself in that camp, pushing for more, want more, but i'm sort of
amazed at this. when when you go from situation with folks are denying that the civil war was about slavery. respected historians denying it. in the early 20th century. to being here now. what has changed? >> i thought about that a lot last week when i went to the museum. because i began graduate school in 1970, at a time when there was just beginning to be a history of slavery. there have been all kinds of controversy in the 1960's about whether or not one could know anything about slavery. whether there was a basis for a history of slavery. because slaves did not sit around and write in diaries and serve on government commissions and leave an extensive written record and the way history operated as a field was to turn to those kind of resources. so, a lot of my cohort of historians began to think about what other kinds of sources can
we find? how can we re-create this history? and the museum, the first section of the museum from the slave trade up through the civil war, is in essence, a product of that work. and of transformation, not just of the history of slavery, that of the way history is done. using quantitative materials such as records the slave trade to be able to recreate patterns of human lives. of individuals who never had a chance to leave a diary like george washington's letters or a record like others. the memoirs of grant or something of that sort, and yet, ingenious work with quantitative materials can recreate much of that experience. folklore. material culture. all kind of ways of creating a past that was denied. i think we're building on that
transformation of not just our historical record, but our historical capacities and that has brought us to a time when we can ask questions that couldn't -- that people would say couldn't be answered before. and we have many people asking those questions. but i think there is a kind of frustration, like what jack said. you put it out there and people say, what? huh? i didn't hear about that. for me, the key moment was when michelle obama said at the convention, we live in a house built by slaves and there was all this noise. host: huh, huh? >> that to me just embodied our failure to move beyond this extraordinary work that historians were sharing with one another to a more public sharing of our collective past. i think the museum is going to do an enormous for -- amount of work in that regard. i think our efforts in
universities will bring it to life. this is work that needs to be done and shared much more broadly. i believe we have been in a moment of transformation, a long moment of transformation, if you look at 1972 now. inre is significant change the span of my career in history. host: thank you both. [applause] >> the new congress starts tuesday. watch all of the opening-day events and activities on c-span. we are live from the u.s. capitol starting at 7:00 a.m. eastern. you will meet new representatives and hear from returning members. the house gavels in at noon. opening-day business includes the election of the house speaker, his address, and later debate and a vote on rules for the new congress. one rule in particular is getting attention, a proposal to