Georgetown University, Learning From Its Sins

Sep 01, 2016 · 143 comments
Ian MacFarlane (Philadelphia PA)
I don't really think it is "we as a nation" rather particular individuals. Those with the wealth to control our society then as now bear that burden.

The Society of Jesus is as culpable and profited as handsomely as any other brutal master. Confession of guilt may absolve ones soul, but does nothing to close a gap that will always be unbridgeable. Some sins cannot be forgiven.
Dan (Aberdeen)
Violence begets grace. I'm surprised our Jesuit writer missed that. Our charge is to take the horrific and brutal and change it to something beautiful an inspiring, not wallow in guilt.
Warren (CT)
I guess teaching that America (and Western Culture), or at least the male half of it, is replete with wrongs and injustices is not enough to understand how we got to where we are, with its blessing and shortcomings. Instead it seems there is a need to pronounce litmus test judgement, demand contrition, and generally cast all that has been achieved in the worst possible light - often and interestingly by the progeny of the guilty. Almost like our very own Cultural Revolution.
Richard Gaylord (Chicago)
"Slavery is our history". it may be your history but it's not my history. why do i bear any guilt for the past sins committed by others?
GA (Washington, DC)
As a descendant of slaves, I applaud the University for owning up to its past. But Georgetown's past was hardly unique and does not warrant months and months of constant apologies over many platforms in all media. Time, CBS, the NYT, WAPO, NPR, WAPO again, the Root, NYT again, etc. (Like most institutions in Washington, D.C., Georgetown has a very well-oiled pr office.)

G-town's contrition goes well beyond mea culpa. It becomes self-serving: Look at us, we own up to our past, (with the clear subtext) at least we don’t have offensive stained glass (take that Yale), or schools named after racists (take that Princeton), or was named after a slave holder (take that Franklin and Marshall). Plays well into the current zeitgeist.

Yet, this apologetic over saturation would be tolerable if G-town actually did something meaningful in light of its history. Instead the University started an oh-so-academic working group and memory project. Ugh! It renamed some buildings and made other token gestures. The author also gave a talk to seminarians, which is the comically close to preaching to the choir.

Tell you what G-town, give the 12,000 to 15,000 living descendants of the original 272 slaves, your true legacy, free tuition instead of talking, ad nauseam, about how sorry you are for selling their ancestors. 1st John 3:18.

To continuously apologize for a very normal practice in order to take the moral high road continues to exploit those 272 slaves.
mondrian (sydney)
If Father Richpigge and his mates really want to do the mea culpas, then divest themselves of all the money they stole, extorted, drained from their victims. The only thing that really hurts the Catholic church is having to give up some lolly. Go back to first principles, lose the wealth, you supercilious jerks. A bit of breast beating does not cut it anymore.
SusieQ (Europe)
Wonderful essay. Dr. Collins is absolutely right and I appreciate his humility and eloquence in making his case. When we studied slavery in school, the unit ended with Martin Luther King and I know I was not alone in having the sense that okay, everything's hunk dory now. Moreover, there was never any discussion of the tremendous contribution of slaves to the US economy and infrastructure. I think shame concerning the circumstance under which these contributions were made had a role in this silence. But I think there are other reasons for the silence: to acknowledge such profound contributions opens the door to the issue of reparations and moreover it makes it all the more outrageous that African Americans today are still marginalized. I think people enjoy the narrative of: yes, slavery was horrible, but it's over and these days, you know, "they" have such a sense of entitlement -- they think they should have healthcare and free preschool and host of other benefits they don't deserve. But if we had a correct understanding of not only the pain and suffering but the contributions in pure economic terms of African Americans in the slavery period it would be much harder to deny benefits. For those Americans who think they've avoided culpability because they're more recent immigrants I'd argued it's not just about culpability. The great economic advantages you enjoy today as an American citizen can be traced in a significant part to the unpaid labors of African Americans.
sdw (Cleveland)
I graduated from Georgetown University, receiving my undergraduate degree more than 50 years ago. I never heard the story of Jesuit slave holding and trading until the news broke a few months ago.

I agree that Georgetown and the Jesuits must now do the right thing. I take issue, however, with the impression left by David Collins that the Jesuits have made an effort for many years to spread the word of this disgraceful history. They may have done so among themselves, but the students of Georgetown were left in the dark.
Publius (Los Angeles, California)
The problem with slavery is that its effects live on, guilt or no guilt. The structures in our cities, our farms, our military even. Our political gerrymandering. All of it has as its foundation the slavery on which this country was founded, the slavery which built the White House and sustained Mount Vernon.

I had slave-owning ancestors, but have been for my entire life color-blind. I tell my black friends of my past, and they laugh, as if somehow I am trying to assume guilt for something I never did. They are right if we are to move on. I am right if we can never forget.

We are not saved. We have not paid our debt to those our ancestors enslaved or killed, both African-American and Native-American. Candidly, we never can and never will.

What we CAN do is treat everyone more fairly. Make the justice system work for the poor and minorities as it does for the rich and white. Recognize that what we demonize as "entitlement" programs are, when done right, "empowering" programs. Designed to help the dispossessed rise.

I would add that we also disserve poor whites. We treat them so badly that all they have left is to feel superior because they are not some minority. In the end, that is the sin of our plutocracy, which is overwhelmingly white. They love to divide the "lower classes", as it assures their firm hand on our country's and the world's controls.

We need a new Marx, a new Joe Hill, a new Martin Luther King. And we will not get one. As to Georgetown, meh. Nothing.
Stefanie (Manhattan)
At any point in history there were/are injustices. If your goal is to make change be ready to fight the fight. Those that did sacrificed everything.
Joshua Schwartz (Ramat-Gan)
Guilt is tricky? Where does it begin? Where does it finish? Does it finish?

One person's Manifest Destiny is another's Naqba ( to borrow a phrase from the Middle East in relation to US history), or perhaps even genocide when describing Native Americans.

Guilt is tied to history. Unfortunately, everybody has his or her own history or narrative. In terms of conflict between narratives, never the twain shall meet.

Academics and historians and even politicians can apologize but that rarely solves problems or cures the ills of society. The Pope already apologized in 1993 for the role of the Catholic Church in slavery.

Guilt and history work up to a certain point. After that, unfortunately (or fortunately), it is dependent on Realpolitik. This is where politicians are supposed to earn their salaries. There should be a clear goal and an attempt at solution, even in the case of past sins and guilt. What is the solution beyond mea culpa?
Vincent (West Chester, PA)
Lighten up, Padre. The slaves are gone to God, and the living are not the guilty. Conditions around Africa and the world command your attention rather than worrying what to do about the sins of people long gone. And to rub salt in your sores, who among the Jesuits or any of the major Catholic orders wrote such an op/ed piece concerning what to do about the sex scandals, the lack of financial transparency, and the lack of accountability in the Church recently? You are infected with the politically correct virus, and you proclaim too much to be at stake. Clean the Augean stables in Rome first, Georgetown second. You've been measured, found wanting, and your days are numbered. So act accordingly.
Ami (Portland, OR)
I respect Georgetown for continuing to teach about the shameful aspects of their past. Doing so allows the next generation to be accountable and responsible for ensuring that the past does not repeat itself. It's easy to just say we were a product of our times but we changed with the times. Georgetown's strength comes from their willingness to acknowledge that what was done to the slaves was wrong and accepting responsibility for past misdeeds in the present.
Sulawesi (Tucson)
Since we are talking about slavery in the early 19th century, it might be good to put it into the perspective of the 18th and 17th century. The farther back you go, the more commonly slavery was tolerated. As I understand it, England first passed laws against slavery 200 years ago, and was the first country to do so. Saudi Arabia did so in in 1964. One might ask, what was it about western culture that caused it to first abolished slavery. Really, you could get the impression living in the USA that slavery was a uniquely American disease. It wasn't, and it is alive in some dark corners of the world even today. Maybe it would be good to stop guilt-mongering and brow-beating about the evil USA, and look on slavery as a problem for all humans to grapple with.
Larry (NY)
What?!? The Catholic Church involved in a dehumanizing, morally repugnant crime against humanity? Nothing I read about this organization can shock me any more.
Mary (Western MA)
Owning our past is so crucial! Jamestown colony rewarded investors by bringing slaves to America to make a product that is potently addicting and hence highly profitable. Are we still allowing profit making that is blind to human needs and social justice?
The German example of owning their sins is so powerful. It has allowed Germans to set a truly inspiring example of human compassion by welcoming the victims of war into their country.
Those who deny complicity in American slavery and the genocide of Native Americans are comfortable denying any responsibility for our ongoing economic violence and lack of compassion. Take for example our current contributions to environmental destruction; our careless gun sale laws that have led to the proliferation of military style weapons used in Mexican drug wars, etc, etc.
Gentleman of Logic (Land of logic)
By common sense, when everyone involved in the deed is dead, their children are dead, their grandchildren are dead, and their great grandchildren are dead, it is no longer relevant. Otherwise, Italy better pay up for Ceasar invading my ancertors' homeland.
Get over this hogwash and move on. Nothing is owed to anyone. History is full of bad things. Geez, I bet the male slaves in question here didn't treat female slaves as equals and probably didn't approve of homosexuality. Uh oh...they better pay reparations for women's rights after oppressing women all those years.
Michjas (Phoenix)
Some day, the use of fossil fuels may be viewed as akin to murder. Will our great grandchildren rightfully consider us murderers and will they call for reparations to those living in Bangladesh?
etb (DC)
A piece of sanctimonious fluff.
OneDaySoon (Los Angeles)
As an alumnae of Georgetown, I couldn't be prouder of my alma mater. No, we of the present can't change the facts of the past, but when it comes to the legacy of slavery we can do more than shrug our shoulders, declare it wasn't us, and say "move on". I believe that much of the root of racial discord today is the unwillingness to think critically about how the legacy of slavery and its pernicious cousin Jim Crow impacted and still impacts us today.
I admire Georgetown's willingness to admit the heinous aspects of its past, but even more importantly, I'm proud of its public struggle to grapple with the implications of not only the legacy of its actions, but of the system of slavery itself. Bravo. It's not the answer, but it's a start.
Sven Svensson (Reykjavik)
Morally superior people in one historical era will always find the morals of people in previous historical eras lacking.
Ian Maitland (Wayzata)
Plainly it is fitting that Georgetown should recognize its history and the historical relationship with the slaves on its plantations and elsewhere and, through them, to their descendants. There is no doubt, either, that if a Jesuit takes pride in his order's history, that pride should be honest and informed, just as our understanding of our history should be.

But Edmund Burke said "I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against an whole people." Father Collins might have heeded Burke's warning. When he refers to "our responsibility" for slavery, he comes perilously close to charging innocent Americans with terrible crimes, based not on anything they have done (or should have done but failed to do) but on who they are -- the color of their skin or their DNA or just where they reside. That would be to a grave injustice. Indeed, it would be racism, a term that is used indiscriminately today, but one that precisely fits those charges.

Of course "slavery is our history," but what does it mean to say that "we are its heirs"? Does God visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation? Do the past eternally repeat itself? I am quite lost.

If Father Collins insists that we unblinkingly look our history in the face, I agree. But he seems to want to redact out the Civil War, Reconstruction and civil rights legislation. What is it about Americans that they fixate on the ugly realities of their history at the expense of the good?
William Case (Texas)
The author is correct that all Americans bear the guilty of slavery. Most U.S. slave owners were white because the population was mostly white, but Americans of all racial and ethnic groups—including blacks and Native Americans—owned slaves. The 1860 Census shows the United States had a total population of 31,183,582 at the beginning of the Civil War. Of these, 27,233,198 were free while 3,950,528, or 13 percent, were slaves. There were 393,975 slave owners. So, about 1.5 percent of Americans owned slaves. Well-known black Harvard historian Louis Gates cites an 1830 study that showed 3,766 blacks out of a free black population of 319,599 owned slaves. So, about 1.2 percent of free blacks owned slaves compared to 1.5 percent of whites. Virtually all slaves were black of course, but African Americans descended from slaves who were transported from Africa to the present day United States are also beneficiaries of slavery. African Americans are far better off than Africans whose ancestors were not transported to America. Today, the average per-capital income in Sub-Sahara Africa is about $750 a year and the average expectancy is about 50 years.The black population of the United States is the world’s richest large black population.
jan (left coast)
This is what I know...after have represented parties in scores of legal mediations of damages claimed because of some type of discrimination, now illegal in the workplace, but at some time in the past, perfectly legal.

To reach a resolution, and a mediated settlement, neither side will be happy with the result. Both sides begrudgingly accept a compromise resolution, usually because in part, they both want to move forward.

Even when the aggrieved party was to receive over a million dollars, or the party on the paying end of the deal was paying less than a small fraction of a percent of one ever seemed to accept the mediated resolution as a happy ending.

It was usually the imperative, that life goes on, which nudged the parties to accept, less than what they hoped for in the dispute, or in the mediation.

These matters can be litigated, disputed, fought over for many years.

And there is a significant cost, to anyone involved, in waging war or litigation.
Fred (Bryn Mawr)
The Catholic Church was the driving force behind slavery in this country. We should recognize that the Congress has the power, through the enforcement provisions of the Civil War Amendments (13, 14 & 15) to outlaw that church as an institution of slavery. Congress must do so. The wealth of that church should be confiscated and paid to African-Americans as a down payment on reparations. The butcher's bill of slavery is so great it can never be repaid in full.
VH (New York, NY)
As a first-generation student of color, I'm blessed to walk through these halls each and everyday. For me and I suspect [the few] others who like me, to walk on Georgetown's campus is to walk away from a world many of my well-heeled, prepped-out classmates have never known.

To walk on Georgetown's campus, however, is also to witness the university's inability to come to terms with its past, not just built on the backs of slaves or minimum-wage food workers, but also the Ewings, Mutumbos, and Iversons who helped turned the university from Harvard-lite into one of the most sought after brands in higher education.

How ironic is it that the leading producer of U.S. diplomats has so much self-reflection to do?
McDiddle (San Francisco)
@Allan H and others

Owning human flesh is a unconscionable. Just as the slaughter of 6M Jews was unconscionable. Jews say never forget but you claim slavery is over. You can't have it both ways. Jews continue to fight to reclaim the property that was taken from them by the Nazis. There is no property or anything tangible that the descendants of African slaves can claim as compensation for what was taken from them.

The institutions on which this country was built were squarely founded upon the flesh and to claim that anything that exists in this country would exist without the injustice that was done to the Africans is completely ignorant.

Not being admitted to an institution because of your religion is regretful. Buying and selling flesh is completely different and no the war that was fought to end the war was not compensation.

Slavery was the basis on which segregation, discrimination and racism were built. Those legacies are still with us. Until we reconcile ourselves around the former, the latter will persist.
KarlosTJ (Bostonia)
I never owned a slave.

My parents never owned slaves.

Given my Slavic heritage, with the name itself indicative of the outcome, at some point ancestors or deep relations of mine actually WERE slaves.

I've gotten over it. I do not require reparations from generations long past. I only ask that my government - that created for the country created by the Enlightenment - not descend into any form of slavery in the future. Yet, somehow, with an African American as POTUS, I am enslaved - to the millions of Americans the POTUS believes deserve the fruits of my labor, without my permission, without lifting a finger, without earning the "that" which I did earn.

The author neglects to tell this story, because it ruins his belief that someone is always owed for America having once had slaves.
Sazerac (New Orleans)
Will someone please come up with the definitive "We are sorry for" list. Why? So that we can all apologize, kiss and make up and get on with our lives without the "poor me", "wallow in self-pity", "entitlement because of wrongs hundreds of years past"?
Darcey (Philly)

While you look backward, you ignore the discrimination outrage currently perpetrated by your Church. So, it's a bit of a wash. Or more aptly, too little too late. You know, like the Galileo fiasco.

So Georgetown decides to have a committee to review its purloined heritage; good for you. Think about it for some more years; write a position paper or two; debate it feverishly, and then make a phone call to the Blacks. They're waiting with held breathe for your silly self-examination, long overdue to the point of insult. Sir, you're undertaking is so fraudulent as to be laughable. How dare you do this.

Now, here's something you could actually do that impacts the present, stops your endemic hateful discrimination in its path, and doesn't pretend to amend something it can no longer amend -

Call that new fangled Pope of yours, the one putting a gentle face on a hate filled religion, and instruct him that as a Jesuit university, and he a Jesuit himself, should both quit saying transgender people are as dangerous to mankind as nuclear weapons. Science belies your view. Because you can't see inside the brain, you assume gender (or sexual identity) is only between your legs? Odd, since your entire dogma is based upon belief in a being you cannot see let alone prove its existence.

You, sir, wear no clothes, nor does Francis.
Tim Lewis (Princeton, NJ)
What is the point? Every thinking person acknowledges that slavery was an evil institution. It is beyond time to leave that behind. I am a Georgetown alum who decided a few years ago to cease to donate to the school. Articles like this convince me I made the right call.
Martin G Sorenson (Chicago)
The past is the past. Reparations, no. But black folks never did get that 40 acres. And a mule. Scholarships are not a bad idea. They don't need to be at anybody's expense. Better yet, though, is to target the bottom rungs of black society. While you're at, how bout them backwards whites in the hills of West Virginia? They been abused by our system every bit as much. I say every day, its a socio economic thing today. The past is the past. We are all in the same boat. A comprehensive fix is needed.
Bill Appledorf (British Columbia)
Readers who question whether they personally are responsible for slavery are missing at least three important points.

First: financing, mortgaging, and insuring the buying and selling of enslaved people formed the foundation upon which institutions fundamental to American capitalism -- which corporate America today and everyone who profits from it depends on for their livelihood -- were built. Also, cotton, the production of which depended on torturing and terrorizing enslaved people, was to the economy of its day as oil is to today's economy. The industrial revolution began with the automation of textile manufacturing in England, another fundamental pillar of the the economy that all of us today benefit from.

Second: white privilege is not a function of what you or I or our personal forebears did or did not do. It, again, is a fundamental pillar of the society we inherited simply by being born into a racist global economy. Whether we or our personal forebears created this is not the issue. It is the world we live in, it is not just, and it is our responsibility to fix it.

Third: African-Americans because of the racist character of American history, which manifests in every imaginable facet of life, are discriminated against in countless ways both consciously and unconsciously, one of the most pernicious being that the wealth African-American families have been able to accumulate and pass down to their descendants is a fraction of what white families have.
Socrates (Downtown Verona, NJ)
I'm a bit surprised by the knee-jerk reactions of commenters who seem to suggest "I wasn't I'm in the clear".

I wasn't there when slavery happened either, but it's important to understand the full history of a place out of basic respect for those humans who came before us.

Many Americans rightfully recognize America's wretched role in the horrid mistreatment of African Americans and Native Americans in history, but many Americans flippantly whitewash those dark chapters into a 'no big deal' folder and file it in a mental shredder and can't seem to grasp why we can't just 'move on', thereby adding horrible insult to horrible injury while being oblivious to their callous indifference to racial reality.

I am white....but I don't think the average American white person tries to understand what it's like to have black skin or Native American skin in a white man's America that has always been tilted socially, economically, academically and judicially in his favor for 400 years.

America was built on Native American genocide and Indian reservation segregation.

America was built on hundreds of years of barbaric slavery, systematic segregation, Jim Crow, 'red-lining' and vitriolic racism championed by the Fake Bible Belt that still breathes racial poison today.

The White Wonder Bread history frequently taught in America is an insult to honesty, history and humanity.

All Americans have a burning duty to the harsh historical truth and an honest reconciliation thereof.
sdavidc9 (Cornwall)
Those who came here after slavery but who benefitted from social structures that originated in slavery have some responsibility. The social structures that originated in slavery and in the attempt to justify slavery, i.e., the structures of racism and discrimination, gave concrete advantages to new immigrants. When the new immigrants came in, they were not at the very bottom of the levels of hierarchy in this country, because that level was permanently occupied by blacks (and perhaps native Americans). These were the structures that were energetically propagated throughout the nation by the former confederacy as a fairly successful attempt to counteract their military defeat.

Anyone who benefitted from these structures (everybody who is white) shares responsibility and should be trying to root them out.
Jay (Los Angeles, California)
Yeah, no.

I could go through numerous injustices for virtually every nation across our globe—there are plenty within the country in which I hold citizenship as is my birth right.

My own family was in shipping for quite some time. Many of my uncles hadn't an education beyond 8th grade. Yet they took many risks in working on the ships, eventually owning their own fleet, a grocery/butcher shop & more.

All cultures, races, immigrants, etc. have their hardships. Quite frankly, I don't feel guilty about having grown up privileged. Some have more than I, others have less. Such is life.
Ryan Bingham (Up there)
The point is, I really don't care what your argument is.
Richard Luettgen (New Jersey)
There’s legitimacy in this acceptance of guilt, but I’m not sure that its real nature is well understood.

Our civil war, emancipation, eventual civil rights legislation but not so much Reconstruction (which was a failure that sparked southern resistance that led in turn to a century of Jim Crow) sought to address the effects of slavery and attenuate the guilt rising from it. If the attempts had been fully successful, the guilt thinking people feel for our history of slavery would be similar to what I feel for the bloody predations of ancient German tribes on Rome: not much.

The problem is that we still live with the effects of slavery, and to one extent or another we tolerate them. THAT’S what makes real guilt legitimate.

It’s not that a sale of “supernumerary” slaves was made by Jesuits in 1838 (six generations ago, for heaven’s sake). It’s that we still have millions of Americans who happen to be black caught in near-hopeless economic impoverishment and dramatically diminished lives. Its’s that our education in our poorest inner-cities doesn’t prepare our black community sufficiently to allow them to mainstream themselves, and that surviving, entrenched prejudice still presents such barriers to those who beat the odds through ability and sheer grit to emerge from the ghettos.

I understand a desire to acknowledge historical guilt. But it’s nothing compared to the legitimacy of present-day guilt, 153 years after Lincoln emancipated the slaves – in rebellious states.
Raymond Condon (Southport, Ct)
Congratulations on the article. Great example of why we admire and respect the Jesuits. Their humanity in accounting the good in us versus the bad. In this case their own behavior in the context of time.
Montreal Moe (WestPark, Quebec)
I am surprised there is no mention of Charles Carroll the man who owned almost all of Maryland at the time if the revolution. In addition to being the only Catholic signer he was Jesuit educated and most likely the richest rebel in human history.
Like Jefferson Carroll did not believe in slavery but refused to free his own slaves.
Insert Logic here (finally logic land)
I know the media loves race baiting stories, but c'mon. This issue is so old and dead.....umm, like the people involved, their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Umm, yeah, the whole issue is pure nonsense
Dan (New York)
Slavery is clearly a stain on America, but what do you want me to do? I played no role in slavery. My grandparents did not either. I just don't understand what you want- I'm not going to apologize for something I condemn and played no part of. Americans know of how horrible slavery was. But an apology from anyone alive today is irrelevant
PAS (Los Angeles CA)
I appreciate your article. It is long past time we take in the bad as well as the good in our shared history.
CMK (Honolulu)
I don't know how to resolve this issue of slavery but the Catholic Church can begin the process for native people by rescinding the “Doctrine of Discovery”– Rescind the Papal Bulls of 1455, 1456, 1479 and 1493 that informed the Doctrine of Discovery and by helping to establish a fair and just process for indigenous communities to assert their rights and claims and for other, settler communities to rebut or challenge those assertions without the use of the discovery doctrine.
Frank Heneghan (Madison, WI)
Some have argued that university athletes are like slaves or perhaps indentured servants who for a four years get an empty seat in the classroom plus room and board for their toil, in the case of Georgetown on the basketball court. The University's outstanding teams of the 80s were mostly African Americans whose athletic talent earned much income for their school and perhaps as important gave it a national profile in the world of college basketball African Americans saved Georgetown centuries ago and perhaps again in more recent years.
Kate (Evert)
As a student who was there in the mid-1980s, and indeed the year the Hoyas won the NCAA, I must correct one thing about your comment. There were no empty seats; the basketball players not only attended class, they sat in the front row. While perhaps not practical, I have no doubt they were following directions from their coach.
Jay (Los Angeles, California)
'Slavery is its history & we are its heirs... There will be no Liberty & justice for all until we as a nation understand that.'

No amount of empathy, compassion, whatever you want to call it can convince me to get behind this statement. Why? Because as a 1st generation American who also holds citizenship in a country within the EU, the entirety of my family's history is not reflected in the states. On a purely intellectual level, I'm interested in history of many cultures/nations. I can see injustice in slavery, believe it wrong & learn of it... Yet it's hard for me not to feel detached.

Empathy & compassion are two traits I have in abundance. As an empath, I actually need to step away in many cases. How shall I put this... When you say the collective 'we' are its heirs, it isn't an unwillingness to recognize wrong doing, but rather the fact that the culture in which I grew up holds far more ties elsewhere.

I've stated that I'm against the renaming of buildings & historical monuments, & in large part, that comes from the culture of the old country. Historic ruins are as much a part of life there today as they were when we still believed in the gods written about in mythology. We've evolved as people & as a culture in numerous ways... Yet we haven't buried the past.

If America is to come to terms with anything, I can't say I believe any amount of renaming is the answer. Take the opportunity to shape the future with the real story. Re-naming is a bandaid fix at best.
Chris (nowhere I can tell you)
Of course course, we conveniently forget the role,of the Church vis a vis Native Americans in the West.

Sell slaves, murder Indians, it's all the same, I guess.
Onward (Tribeca)
Oh yeah? What about the land that used to belong to Native Americans?
Reader (Westchester, NY)
"I still remember how startled I was by the frankness of a fellow Jesuit explaining that as a German he had no right to take pride in Bach and Brahms without taking responsibility for Bergen-Belsen and Birkenau."

Your friend should take neither pride in Bach or responsibility for Bergen-Belsen. Neither had anything to do with him. That kind of "tribalism" is part of what caused things like slavery in the first place.

If Georgetown, as an institution, wants to admit that they did something wrong, as an institution, then fine. It always pays to tell the truth. But as for individuals, we are only responsible for our own behavior.

Whatever circumstances we are born into we didn't choose, nor are we responsible for them. Our only responsibility is to right the wrongs we are born into, and have control over. Right now, in the United States, people of color are not being given enough opportunities to get the best possible education. It doesn't matter who is to fault, or how it got this way- only that we fix it. Let's not waste time self-flagellating or tracking down descendants- as if someone is owed something for someone else's suffering one hundred and fifty years ago. Let's fix the problems of today, not because someone is owed something, but because it's the right thing to do.
Barry (New York)
That is about the most intelligent comment I have read regarding a NYT article.
To refresh my memory I looked up last April 16's very informative exposition by Rachel Swarm, "Intent on a Reckoning With Georgetown’s Slavery-Stained Past." I then noticed several subsequent NYT articles about Georgetown and its history of slavery. While it's an important topic to cover, I'm wondering how many more articles are to come before it turns into some kind of persecution complex.
Philip Greenspun (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
I'm going to guess that dwelling on the sins of people who died 150 years ago is a more popular activity at Georgetown than wondering whether today's students are getting an education that is actually worth the published $280,000 cost of attendance (4 years times $70,000; see ).

It is interesting that whenever people hold a virtue contest and run against folks who died in the 19th century it turns out that the modern contestant wins! At this rate the world will soon be filled with only the fantastically virtuous.
SteveRR (CA)
The good Father is what Nietzsche would call an ascetic.

I reject his thesis - I do not own what past generations did - I can be responsible for what I do and what my generation does,

This kabuki theatre of owning what happened hundreds of years ago only plays into the ongoing narrative of victimhood.

You do your dances and elaborate rituals - I will continue to be about what we can do in the here and now to give all hues of Americans an equal footing at school and in life.
Chris Bradfield (Kansas)
At what point can the "slave" issue be put aside and forgotten?
I have not been nor was I ever a slave owner, nor where my parents or grandparents, or so on...
What can I do to be forgiven for a sin I did not commit?
If I go back in history members of my family died in the fight against slavery?
It seems that we are taught that blacks are victims of slavery and whites are guilty of slavery...
How can we heal when each day where are taught to divide?
Doug Terry (Maryland)
One of the most important tasks for the future is to try to make white America understand that the legacy of slavery is not resolved. Concomitantly, the problem is that white America, especially on the right, is tired of hearing about racism and is fed up with trying to do anything about it. In fact, there is an active campaign on the right to shutdown any discussion of race and its impact on our country (white lives matter) and to turn the tables on blacks and their would be supporters by calling them out as racist. We appear to be about ready to make a wrong turn into disaster for which the country could pay heavily for the next 100 to 200 yrs. or more.

One thing that Georgetown University could do is to dig out the roots of racial oppression in the long post slavery period and make recommendations about how to resolve existing issues. Ha. There's a big job.

If we do not move forcefully to further resolve these issues, there will be hell to pay in America's future. Racism and its impact are not over and, absent some real, substantial progress, people are not going to take being held down forever. Meanwhile, the right is working to cover up the facts and make plans to shout back at those who want to address this important, lingering and unresolved issue.
Jay (Los Angeles, California)
With all due respect, racism isn't limited to white people. Although the WLM movement (or whatever one wants to call it) was misguided, I understand WHY it happened. Furthermore, do not make this a right/left issue—fact is, that many people are damned if they do, damned if they don't. If you're not supportive of black lives matter or the reincarnation of the black panthers, solely because you disagree with their tactics, it does not mean a person is racist.

This whole country is so obsessed with how not to offend, being disingenuously outraged/offended over virtually anything, has become a sport in itself.

To be completely blunt, when is someone going to finally say what the black community needs to hear: in the end, we all make decisions. Are some paths far more of a struggle? Absolutely. But no one is going to save you if you won't save yourself.

It's taboo to bring up the issues faced, in large part, by many members of black America. If the goal is to be equal and assimilate in to a common culture, at some point, someone needs to address the violence, the multiple baby mamas, babies being raised by grandparents because their parent is all of 14... The rate is so highly disproportionate, it's impossible to have this type of discussion when people walk on eggshells over uncomfortable truths. That is not a liberal vs. conservative problem. It's a problem, period.
Sbr (NYC)
In the NYT reporting and opining on this question I find it somewhat astonishing that there was never one mention of Patrick Francis Healy who at the age of 39 became President of Georgetown College.
Healy was born into slavery in 1834. His black mother Eliza was also enslaved and his father Michael Healy, a white Irish slave owner, legally owned his mother and their children. Healy entered the Jesuit order in 1850 just 12 years after the events related here. I wonder what happened, who influenced this dramatic shift in Jesuit conduct so that an African American born into slavery would lead the largest Catholic Institution in the USA. It doesn't appear to be tokenism or expiation. Healy as President was transformative. Healy Hall named in his honor on the Georgetown campus is listed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in 1964 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
Bayou Houma (Houma, Louisiana)
Did Healy ever acknowledge that he was black? Where? part of the Roman Catholic American mythology is to claim this man as African American when that is not how he nor his siblings publicly identified their background in his lifetime. According to biographer James O'Toole, it wasn't until the 1960s Civil Rights protest era that the Church began to promote the former Irish Catholic priest, whose slave mother was the daughter of another white overseer and a black slave, as African Americans. In fact the children by the overseer Healy identified themselves accurately as Irish-Americans, since they looked Caucasian.
Ben (Michigan)
To paraphrase David Brooks in a recent interview with Charlie Rose: bigotry is attributing the sins of a few to the many. This holds true whether we're talking about Mexican immigrants or German Jesuits who like Bach.
nycpat (nyc)
Bach was Lutheran.
Andrew (Yarmouth)
The fundamental problem with "coming to terms with the past" is that the past can never change. There's a practically inexhaustible supply of outrages, sins and crimes that can be dug up and slapped down on the table. You can never settle a fixed score.

And in the case of slavery we seem to be going in a circular pattern. Slavery used to be legal in this country, and the country operated accordingly. By our modern standards that's obscene. But back then that's the way it was, and the credit is to the people of the 19th century who worked to make the 20th century better, and the 21st better still. But now we act as though this slavery thing is something we've only just discovered, like a dark family secret hidden away in the attic scrapbooks.

Speaking as a naturalized US citizen and Georgetown alum, it's great for Americans to know and understand their history. But we're not responsible for those 272 slaves who were so cruelly sold off any more than we're responsible for the striking laborers who were shot dead 60 years later, or the kids who died in those coal mines because they couldn't go to school, or the garment workers trapped in the fire that burned out of control because there were no safety features in place.

I know it's easy for me to say, but worry about tomorrow, not yesterday.
Michael (Morris Township, NJ)
It's one thing to acknowledge that history is often ugly; it's another thing to wallow in it, internalize it, and walk around offended by it. Slavery -- and worse -- has been the hallmark of history in every culture. So what? Point it out, take note of it, and move on.

It's impossible to atone for historic wrongs. The victims and perps are both long dead. Should folks of Irish descent still seethe at the English for Cromwell and the famine? Should Americans (who weren't there) hate the Japanese for Pearl Harbor and Bataan? You get the point; group think historic grievance is limitless. And pointless.

No modern American need feel ashamed about slavery; it was a despicable institution, but, to paraphrase Lincoln, every stop of blood drawn by the last was paid with another drawn by the sword. Of course Americans should learn about slavery, especially in its racial incarnation, as the consequence of the idiotic belief that irrelevancies like race actually matter. Put simply, Americans did that to other Americans. 750K men died to expurgate that sin.

And no American is entitled to feel aggrieved by it. It ended 150 years ago. It's just as irrational to feel guilty about slavery in America as it is to feel guilty about slavery in Rome. It was simple a fact of life, and no one today has the legitimate right to take it personally.

Finally, no American owes any other American a dime as a result of historic wrong; no one left is entitled to a nickel.

It's HISTORY. Nothing more.
mj (MI)
Try as I might I see no remorse in your peice for the servitude the Catholic Church places women in to this day. So apparently you are just fine with that.
Darcey (Philly)
What his church has done in the name of God to many disadvantaged people would take endless editorials; don't make him feel any more worthless than his current gesture already is.
Sam in PDX (Portland OR)
Though it happens very frequently, it always surprises me a bit when my fellow white Americans don't appreciate that regardless of when their ancestors got here, which parts of the country they lived in, and whether or not they themselves displaced the indigenous people living here, owned slaves, or purchased what had been Japanese-owned land during the internment for a fraction of its value, they, like me (and our ancestors), have profited in many ways simply from being white in this society.

It's not as if redlining by banks—both as a current practice and one having an enduring legacy in my city—and other racially based forms of discrimination came out of nowhere. They, sadly, are part of the history—if not the very DNA—of this country. (And like many, I find the metaphor of original sin an appealing one in many ways with respect to these aspects of the country's history.) As the 19th-century French thinker Ernest Renan noted, forgetting is an essential factor in the creation of a nation. Many Americans, especially among those of us who are white, continue to work very hard to forget significant aspects of the country's history. We, including and perhaps especially those of us who are part of the majority ethnic group, don't get to pick and choose the parts of our country's history that we hold ourselves accountable for. Reality is more complex than that, especially if we aspire is to the Constitution's goal of helping form "a more perfect Union."
Dr. MB (Alexandria, VA)
Both as an individual and as an alumni of Georgetown Law, I beg to differ. While denoting a realization of the pernicious effects of past practices is noteworthy, it is time that as human beings, we --being awakened by the reading of these historic wrongs -- move onward. There are so many things to do to make life better to everyone; this country has taken care of the basic needs, thus it is in a unique position to really do many things to make life qualitatively much better for each one. Time is to look forward, the issue should be not to hark upon historical misdeeds, but to make life better henceforth to the greatest number of people possible.
Dan (New York)
I know you didn't graduate from Georgetown Law because you don't know the singular of alumni. No Georgetown Law grad would make a mistake like that- such a degree connotates a high level of intelligence
Forrest Chisman (Stevensville, MD)
Okay, we know this now. We feel badly about it. Is there anything else for us to do? We can't change the past or make it right. We can't punish the guilty. Nobody wants to repeat their acts. So what else is there to say?
Jacqueline (Colorado)
OK, I understand it. I have been unpacking my handbag and looking out of my echo chambers to try to find truth. I recognize that white priviledge is an important reason why my family is the way it is. However, I'm a poor, white Transgender woman....what can I do that will change that besides to understand it and try to live my life more responsibility?

The reason I say this is because, as a poor Transgender woman, I don't exactly feel all that much priviledge. The narrative is that all whites are priviledged and all whites share a racist heritage. I feel like blacks are expecting something besides understanding and a commitment to change. I feel, oftentimes, that they want reparations. As a poor person, it is impossible for me to give $ or buy houses for black people. I owe $186000 in student loans, my credit is ruined, and I barely have any posessions.

Should I get reparations because all of America has treated Transgender people horribly since forever? From multiple black transgender people I know, black culture rejects trans people even more than white culture does. I don't want reparations....I want understanding and a commitment to change in the future.

The reason I write this comment is I feel like many blacks want reparations, not just understanding and change. I'd appreciate it if someone black could respond to my thoughts on this, I'd like to learn more. What would reparations look like, and who would pay for them? Rich whites, all whites?
Darcey (Philly)
Why not ask the anti LGBT Catholic Church to stop its endemic hate toward you right now: the Pope JUST said transgender people are as harmful to mankind as nuclear weapons. Look to today to stop what we can actually fix rather than to 150 years ago. Looking back allows us to ignore the present harm inflicted by this grotesque sham of a loving religion, its history replete with taking with both hands and blithely injuring people who do it no harm.
uncle joe (san antonio tx)
i cant say "what would jesus do"? because he does not directly denounce slavery in his teachings, religion is a ruse.
Frank (Tennessee)
Does slavery currently exist in the U.S.? I am not sure what would correct an un-correctable past. This country provides un-equaled opportunity to those that just want it and seek it on their own terms.
Alex (South Lancaster Ontario)
The Vatican, which is sitting on wealth accumulated from the Jesuits should be the party paying compensation.

The new Pope, himself a Jesuit, should be quick to step up to the plate.

Or, maybe not. Easier to lecture others about spreading social justice - harder to walk the talk.
manfred marcus (Bolivia)
So, now, are we going to continue to look the other way? Slavery in a country born to spread equality for all, what a contradiction. Repentance has come by 'droppers', witness the current sad state of affairs insofar justice is concerned (for African-Americans). Discrimination seems to be deeply ingrained in our hearts, and tribal in nature. To our loss.
OColeman (Brooklyn)
I am grateful that there is continuing conversations at Georgetown. A few comments. Yes, the ultimate goal is reconciliation. We cannot get there until reparations are granted. I read earlier that the descendants of the enslaved would be offered scholarships at GU. This is a start, not. nearly enough. And, this is the hard work.
If there is true regret, let GU take the lead in addressing what was started in the article: they were not the only ones: And, the history is super egregious. So, take the leadership, conversation, program, reparation, reconciliation. We're waiting, not for just conversation, but meaningful, sustained action.
Jay (Los Angeles, California)
Completely disagree!

Maybe if they have the grades to get in, okay, if the school wants to, fine. However, every single one? There's no way they all qualify for those admission standards. And yes, they should be held to the same admission standards as anyone else. To do otherwise would be a disservice because logically/statistically speaking, if they're in over their head, they're not likely to finish.

Bottom line: anyone who was directly involved, slave or Slavs holder, is long deceased. Being transparent about history is paramount. Reparations? I will never agree with this concept—especially under the circumstances & amount of time that's passed. No one can right a wrong here—they can only learn from it.
Sean (Greenwich, Connecticut)
Nice sentiments, as far as they go. But why is it an associate professor and priest who is expressing regret, and not the president of the university, or the pope? And where is the word "guilt"? Where is the apology?

Professor Colins writes, "This story cries out its injustice against our American tendency to distance ourselves from the ugly realities in our history."

Actually, it cries out its injustice against the guilt of the Catholic church. It's the "ugly realities" not of our history, but of the church he represents.
casey (new york new york)
Not of our history? If we live in this country we profit by an economy that was built on the backs of slaves. The "ugly realities" still surround us. Easy enough to make the Catholic Church the only culprit, pointing the finger of guilt away from ourselves. But the history of this country belongs to all of us.
Doug Terry (Maryland)
It is my profound hope that Georgetown University will seek to amend for this horror in a meaningful and significantly constructive way. I hope that they do not take miserly half measures like offering a bucket of scholarships to the descendants of slaves because scholarships actually don't cost a university anything if they are offering a seat in classrooms that would otherwise go empty. Scholarships are not enough, even by half. Besides, scholarships would be like crumbs from the rich man's table: "Sure, you can play on our polo fields, after we're done."

There needs to be a really major accounting both from Georgetown and other institutions that benefited from slavery. A fund dedicated to helping to lift an oppressed people up, a fund of a truly significant size, along with an open apology would be a good start. And, how about creating a working institute to counteract some of the forces that still help to keep blacks in poverty, one that makes regular recommendations to the nation for change?
Nancy (New York)
I'll be even more impressed when people come up with solutions.

Protests and mea culpas are nice, but relatively easy. Solutions are hard.
CFXK (Washington, DC)
did you happen to notice that SOLUTIONS is exactly what Fr. Collins has been working on the past year and that those recommendations will be made public tomorrow?

Commenting in the NYTimes is nice, but actually relatively easy. Actually paying attention to what Georgetown will announce that it is committed to is hard.
DannyInKC (Kansas City, MO)
There no solution. Slavery happened long ago by people long gone. Just get on with it. There are no slaves today.
Karen (NYC)
Both Georgetown and Johns Hopkins are in the same position. Both institutions have benefited from Black bodies. In the Georgetown case, it was the sale of slaves to save the school. In the Johns Hopkins case, it was the removal of cervical cancer cells, without the patient's permission, to use in research. The cells from Henrietta Lacks became known as the HeLa cell line and have been used widely, earning researchers and universities many millions. Both of these universities are in the position to provide what they have to share with the descendents who suffered in slavery, poverty, abuse, separation from loved ones, or without a mother or a decent education or opportunities. Both universities could set up programs to assist descendents who received inadequate basic educations to prepare for a Georgetown or Johns Hopkins degree. It is within their power to do so.

Henrietta Lacks
Gentleman of Logic (Land of logic)
I profoundly hope that the holier than thou crow get over this nonsense and move on. It is easy and self-righteous to judge actions from a past era through the lense of our current time. Read a little Flannery O'Connor.
More importantly, asking for reparations is nonsensical and pure hogwash. By the same logic, the entire USA should be given back to native American tribes, France should pay reparatiosnf or Napoleon, Mongolia for Genghis Khan, Italy for Ceasar invading Gaul. Arguing against this extension of the logic is futile--you just merely choose an arbitrary timepoint at which the wrongs are no longer relevant. By common sense, when everyone involved in the deed is dead, their children are dead, their grandchildren are dead, and their great grandchildren are dead, it is no longer relevant. By law and by logic, one is not guilty or responsible for the sins of their forebearers. get over it, move on, and do something productive. Or maybe, I should demand money from Turkey for the Ottomans invading my ancestors home (actually more recent than this nonsense)....hmmm
Hugh MacDonald (Los Angeles)
"This story cries out its injustice against our American tendency to distance ourselves from the ugly realities in our history." What would you have us DO, Professor Collins? "America would not be America except for its deplorable history of slavery. There will be no “liberty and justice for all” until we understand that, not just Georgetown University and the Roman Catholic Church, but we as a nation." Again, what would you have us DO? Or is this a typically vacuous and vague academic crying out against an injustice without providing or even suggesting a proper and viable means of redress? P.S. This stance reminds me of Mr. Clinton's, 1990's "I feel your pain." Okay. You feel my pain. Wonderful. What are you going to DO about it?
Cantabrigian (Cambridge, MA)
In 2008(!), the Maryland Jesuits sold 4,000 acres of land to the State of Maryland for an estimated $53.6m. This land sale included some of the very farms on which the Jesuit slaves toiled in bondage for decades. Will the Maryland Jesuits please explain what they plan to do with these ill-gotten gains?
John Bolog (Vt.)
Slavery. Crusades. Inquisitions. Irish orphanages. Holocausts. Pedophilia. Seems your church has a long history for you to study...
Cantabrigian (Cambridge, MA)
What about the living descendants of these 272 Jesuit slaves, Father? Not a word about the moral obligation Georgetown and the Jesuits owe to the descendants.
Ryan Bingham (Up there)
Somebody else would have bought them.
Allan H. (New York, NY)
I am sorry that Professor Collins has a guilty conscience, but if he is gonig to use history and religion to compel historical justice, then why not admit 10,000 Jews to Georgetown who were denied admission, or push for compensation for all people wronged by the Catholic church?

What is the religious principle by which one expiates for sins 150 years ago but not those of 70 years ago, or even 30? This genuflection (excuse me but it;s thr right word) to guilt 150+ years after the facts is morally, historically and legally absurd.

90% of the current population of the US is descended from people who arrived after slavery had ended, and 85% of those descended from people here during slavery have no biological, let alone moral, relationship to slavery.

Slavery is over. Done. Finished. And ended solely because the white population fought a war, and lost 350,000 lives, to end it.
Darcey (Philly)
If they looked as close as 50 or 30 years years ago, they would unravel their dogma of current hate: anti LGBT; anti-women. What they do works to deflect from real progress by misdirecting the conversation from what they can actually change today, to what they should have done 150 years ago. It is intellectually dishonest, and for a university, and a Jesuit one at that, an outrage.
Bayou Houma (Houma, Louisiana)
The pious piety of David J. Collins notwithstanding, the Roman Catholic European enslavement of African Americans and sale of them to save and sustain the Jesuit University of Georgetown is only part of the atrocity he regrets.
Omitted is the terrible abandonment of mixed race slave children fathered by Roman Catholic priests and their slave mistresses, which continued into the 20th century among Roman Catholic missionary orders like the Josephites of Baltimore.
While Prof. Collins is telling the Georgetown history of the Roman Catholic slave trade, he might well suggest that they read the chronicles of mixed race children abandoned by their Jesuit, Josephite, Dominican, Christian Brothers, and parish priest fathers. Start with Graham Greene's novel "The Power and the Glory" about Church acceptance of priests abandoning their children in Mexico for an idea of the practice in the United States South. Then consult with organizations like present day "Children of Priests."
Ask why the Roman Catholic hierarchy still refuses to take any interest or responsibility in saving the "souls" or even the lives of those children fathered and abandoned by priests for the greater glory?
Joe Brown (New York)
I am so happy you are repenting for your sins. How much $$$ do Georgetown, the Jesuits and the USA expect to pay for them?

Otherwise, your editorial is just rhetoric and hot air.

Call me when you want to get real.

Love and Peace

Joe Brown
Darcey (Philly)
Hot Air? As is the Church.

Call? Don't hold your breathe waiting for that phone call.
Longue Carabine (Spokane)
All very good, as long as no taxpayers money is involved.
fastfurious (the new world)
The University should pay reparations to the descendants of the slaves. Offering scholarships to descendants is a good idea but not everyone will want to use a scholarship. There should be a more substantial and concrete way to make amends to the descendants for treating their ancestors as sub-human. No other response really means anything when compared to making payments for the brutal treatment and denial of rights to their ancestors. Obviously some of their descendants are alive and involved in this issue. Resolve this by making a substantial payment to then.

There is no way to redress the abuse done to slaves. But their ancestors could benefit from genuine remorse and desire to try to make some aspect of this right. Figure out a substantial sum of money to be divided among the ancestors and pay them.

Everything else is just talk, spin, public relations, politics, lip service.
rjs7777 (NK)
Historical precedents can seem to justify nearly anything, using skillful rhetoric.

What matters most is moral conduct within one's own life. An understanding of history helps us to frame that moral conduct. But it does not somehow take precedence over contemporary justice. And understanding of history does not make something that is wrong today into something that is right.
Me (Somewhere)
A call to collective guilt is a call to socialize loses. Don't be fooled the person who ultimately pays will not be the one who has things to lose. That is the trick.
Paul (Trantor)
Doing good works on one hand doesn't expunge evil on the other. Slavery is evil despite there being biblical support. That support justified the slave trade and slave owners sleeping soundly at night and "joyfully" attending Church on Sunday. Slavery's brutality, just like genocide, cannot be washed away by time. There needs to be a reckoning.

There are fine, moral Jesuits, as there are good people in all faiths. However, religion accounts for much of the evil in this world.
rjs7777 (NK)
You say, doing good works doesn't expunge evil. And that slavery's brutality cannot be washed away by time. I agree. There needs to be a reckoning? I believe you just explained why there never can be any appreciable reckoning. We can discuss this in 80 years, or 800 years. Few facts will change. Maybe our reckoning should be that religions should no longer enslave people. If so, that's a very fine legacy.
bozicek (new york)
Another superficial, uninformed attack on religion, and this comment is coming from an atheist. The Christian Church preserved Western Civilization during the Dark Ages, and the church instilled social cohesion that allowed both the Renaissance and Enlightenment to happen. To say that religion accounts for much of the evil in this world is breathtakingly ignorant. Were the greatest mass murderers in history---Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Attila...the list is endless--motivated by religion? They certainly weren't.
Paul (Trantor)
@ Bozicek
An attack by an atheist? No sir, an agnostic.

I stand firm stating most evil in the world is done in the name of religion; Hitler et al notwithstanding. And as far as the "Christian Church" preserving Western Civilization, I guess they don't teach the Crusades In Sunday School. And while we're at it, do some research on the First and Second Crusade and give your apology to the Jews of France and Germany exterminated by "good Christians" en route to the "holy land".

Live and let live is my commandment. Don't tell me how to live and I'll do the same for you.
Riley Temple (Washington, DC)
Now, call their names. Say them out loud. In the rolls of honor and tribute, list the names, one-by-one. Now, make human the persons who were treated as herds of cattle. Let all America and the world know -- their descendants known and unknown -- that they lived and gave with their freedom and their lives so that white men and women could savor lives of the mind.
alexander hamilton (new york)
How anyone could go to church, profess to follow any brand of religion, and then own slaves, is something I've never really understood. It suggests that as far as organized religion goes, there's never been any "there" there.

Or as Abraham Lincoln aptly observed,

“I care not for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.” Let alone his slave.
bozicek (new york)
It's ironic you're quoting Abraham Lincoln, the president that planned to ship every black to Central America after the Civil War in order to preserve American civilization.
William Case (Texas)
Civilization would not be civilization except for slavery. Historians characterize slavery as the shortcut humanity took between the hunter-gatherer stage of existence and advanced civilization. All the great civilizations of antiquity were slave-based—including those in the Americas. America’s history of slavery is not uniquely deplorable. Slavery lasted less than three generations in the United States. The United Stare inherited slavery—which was a global institution—from the colonial powers in 1776 and abolished it completely in 1865. Some slaves born the year the U.S. Constitution was signed lived to see the end of slavery. But slavery lasted for a much shorter period in most states. For example, Pennsylvania passed legislation to gradually abolish slavery in 1780, two years before the U.S. Constitution was signed.
Crossing Over (In The Air)
New York Times can't let this article die, it was 1000 years ago, let it go already.

It's a fantastic university, your needless and gratuitous attacks on it have grown very tiresome to many readers.
Wendy Jordan (Albany NY)
I'm a Georgetown alumnae. My husband is a Georgetown alumnus. I am very proud of our University, for having the courage and decency to acknowledge this disgraceful aspect of our history. Looking at the horrific truth of participation in the slave trade, of robbing our fellow human beings of their labor, their families, their lives, without flinching or waffling or lame excuse, is a good first step. Other good steps must follow, and I believe they will, although we don't see clearly, at this time, what all those steps will be.

The past cannot be changed. But knowing the past helps us to better understand the present and should guide us towards better actions in the future. The arc of history does indeed bend towards justice. We all have a roll in making that happen, regardless of when our personal ancestors happen to have gotten off the boat.

Hoya Saxa!
AJ (Noo Yawk)
Just the right way to consider the history Georgetown is grappling with!

Georgetown is not unique in terms of institutions with sins as part of its historical baggage. It is widely shared company, at both an institutional and individual level.

Rev. Collins eloquently and thoughtfully captures the opportunity and need for assessing such matters and history in full context. And he charts a course that is less common than one wishes.

Watching Georgetown's efforts in grappling with this painful part of its history, what is notable is how "truth seeking," open and desirous of doing the right thing, the efforts are. What a commendable approach. And what a wonderful model for so many (universities included) still hiding in their past, too scared to grapple with luminaries whose history includes ugliness that all would be better off dealing with rather than being too scared to shatter stained glass windows and long storied names.
fastfurious (the new world)
My own experience with the university as a graduate student is it's possibly the most corrupt institution I've ever personally been involved with. The administration cares about money and everything else is secondary. Don't be fooled by the fact it's supposed to be a Jesuit institution.

I assume eventually they'll do something about their slave holding history in order to quell a nasty backlash. They don't want anything to get in the way of raking in $$$$ - including bad press.
Matt Porter (Atlanta)
As a graduate of Georgetown, and a southerner, I commend Father Collins on this column. In my mind, the issue is not one of accepting guilt. Guilt is a useless emotion. It is about taking personal responsibility and corrective action.

Let us not seek to "right a wrong" but rather to do more right. I look forward to reading about the university's plan of action. I hope for two actions: a scholarship program that helps bring the living descendants of these slaves into my university and a course of study that required of all students at the university to study American complicity in oppression and prejudice, past and present. Every student should be asked to submit a plan of action or thesis on how they might address social injustice in their future endeavors, be that ministry, law, medicine, foreign service, nursing, business, teaching, research, language study, or whatever profession they pursue.

Georgetown might set an example that other universities can follow. Through shame we discover conscience that may lead to understanding, kindness, and empathy. Dark history informs the present. As for me, I will continue to volunteer with nonprofits in my community that serve the cause of social justice. Not to absolve my sins or peacock my good feathers, but rather to do more right because it just feels so damn good. Enlightened Self-Interest is not shameful.
fastfurious (the new world)
Volunteer for non-profits all you want.

Why insist do you recommend every student must submit "a plan of action or thesis how they might address social injustice in their future endeavors...." It shows contempt for students that consideration of this issue must be forced on them as a homework assignment.

Far better would be to hold voluntary conferences, lectures and workshops over the next 5 years. Have speakers come to campus especially to discuss or hold seminars about this. People who want to learn will show up. This is never helped by demanding homework from students who had nothing to do with the university making this mess in the first place. Nobody was ever cured of racism or callous indifference by being forced to write a paper about how they would cure it.
J. Sutton (San Francisco)
Very easy to be sorry now and gain the world's admiration for fine words of regret and even some meaningful action to express that regret. However, no amount of fine words and pious expressions can ever erase the suffering that was inflicted on these people for 200 years of slavery, another 150 years of Jim Crow lynchings segregation and every kind of civil rights violations. It is important not to FORGET the original sin or let these pious words erase that recognition.r Because we are still facing the consequences of that iniquity practiced by so many "admirable" men including Washington and Jefferson.
Jay (Los Angeles, California)
With all due respect, treating university students as you would a group of second graders, by having them write a 'social justice plan,' is a lead balloon I can't ignore.

Forcing it upon people in a way by which you (hope) will push your personal belief is a sure way to cause anger, resentment and further divides. If someone wants to be a social justice warrior, I have no doubt they'll find their way without force. For those of us who wish to be educated, yet not pushed in to a box that forces us to write such a thing, leave us alone.

Trust me, I'm a fanatic about reading & history is a favourite topic. That said, in my own career & in being an artist, I'm not going to intentionally create pieces about topics that I don't feel at the time. Forcing people to complete such an exercise is not a way to rid the world of racism. Some people go all out for a cause. Some of us do not, nor are we interested in such.

Given the money spent on my education, I would much rather know I've learned things that very much apply to my career... Not the feel good, SJW project, as by university, I expect assignments that wasn't the type pushed on me in Jr. High & high school.
ERP (Bellows Falls, VT)
I would have been interested in the author's response to the argument that "the grandchildren of Irish, Polish and Italian immigrants ... had arrived too late to have a share in any culpability." But he simply states it and then moves on.

I've always believed that I must accept responsibility for my own behavior but not the actions of others over whom I could have had no influence. Or is guilt genetic, like original sin?
Anthony N (NY)

True, there are many who do not share "culpability", including those - the overwhelming majority - who did not own slaves and had nothing to do with the slave trade. Yet, even those who came to our counrty after the end of slavery did benefit from a society built, in part, via the ownership by some of other humans, and the free labor and income that generated. It is not a matter of "guilt", genetic or otherwise. It is a recognition of reality, and the consequences and responsibilities that flow from it.
Nicholas Finke (Cincinnati, OH)
The thing to remember here is that the growth of the United States economy from the beginning to the present day benefited greatly from the unpaid labor of generations of slaves. Whether or not anyone's ancestors owned slaves or whether any of them were in this country before 1865 is of no significance. All of us in this country today owe a great debt, usually ignored, to the slaves who helped to bring us to the standard of living we enjoy today.
Debi (New York City)
@ERP: Given the author's eloquence on this subject, I believe I also would have enjoyed his response to the argument that one's forebears "arrived too late to have a share in any culpability."

If I may suggest, ERP, there is a wonderful response provided in the book "The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class."
J. Sutton (San Francisco)
What I don't understand is this: Aren't some things absolutely wrong? Didn't the 19th century priests know that slavery is evil and wrong? Certainly other people knew, like Tom Paine much earlier who describe the evil of slavery in no uncertain terms. Certainly the brave abolitionists who risked their lives to save enslaved people. Was there no standard of morality existent in the minds and hearts of these priests? Evidently not.
Paul Smith (St Petersburg)
Do you drive a car that is fueled with gasoline? Why do you do that? You know the emissions are destroying the planet. You could own an electric car but you chose not to do so, as do 99% of everyone else in our time. Does that mean people who live 100 years from now will decide you had no standard of morality?
Jay (Los Angeles, California)
In my opinion, no. Simply put, it was a different time. Slavery happened all over the world, though perhaps not of the same magnitude as in the States. Lest we forget, Africans were also the ones selling other Africans!

Simply put, if the overall belief is that one is a commodity/piece of property, based on the scale with which it occurred, why would Jesuits believe anything to the contrary? If anything, it may well have been (at least in part) an act that 'saved' the souls of those who were 'lost', 'feeble minded', etc.

I realize that many dislike it when 'that's how it was at the time,' is brought up, yet it's true. While people harbor prejudice now, most will at least behave cordially. Keep in mind that humans were/are constantly evolving. I was raised very differently than my father, my second cousins are being raised very differently than I.

None of this is said as an excuse.I'm 1st gen. so I haven't any historical ties here. Regardless, I can look at my own ancestors of Greece and see where there are both great lessons, as well as misguided thinking. So yes, time has a context... Kind of like how we no longer behead royal families, support craziness like the Salem witch trials, etc.

For better or worse, time ultimately breeds new forms of education, technology & in best case scenarios, common sense. Thus my stating that the time period remains relevant.
J. Sutton (San Francisco)
American slavery was very different in nature and persecuted one ethnic group stolen from their homeland for 200 years.
Patrick Moynihan (RI)
I first come across this disturbing piece of history in Fr. David Knight's book "His Way". It is a searing reminder that we humans are always dangerously myopic. Often, we do not get to the absolute good. We make remarkable mistakes and mostly, at best, half good acts--like divesting of salves instead of freeing them.

I am thankful that I was not alive then or Nazi Germany. However, I wonder if our indifference to the "Incarceration Nation" is yet another example of our proneness to myopia. And, I am alive now.
Aodhan (TN)
I got to know Father David Knight. He was/is a brilliant speaker of truth to power.
ShutupDonny (Los Angeles)
I was surprised to see there were no comments on this bracing op-ed, but then realized it does not appeal to easy, knee-jerk reaction. That religion isn't perfect, and those who practice it often forget its tenets close to home, isn't startling. One need look only to the Spanish Inquisition, or the California Missions or, well, any number of examples close at hand. The key bone for me to chew on in this piece is that I am one with all I am, the good and the bad. I've read that humility is truth; Fr. Collins' essay seems to me to be a good stab at it, and his mission to keep alive the dignity and reality of those 272 souls is worthy of my attention. And, yes, I'm the descendant of German immigrants who emigrated to the Midwest well after slavery had been abolished, but I have no illusions that just as Michelle Obama wakes up every day in a house built by slaves that I wake up free every day in a country built, at least in part, by slavery and its consequences.
Longue Carabine (Spokane)
There are lots of comments.
Sanjay Gupta (CT)
As an alumnus of Georgetown, I have watched the University’s response to its own legacy of slavery with great interest. Georgetown, which is not unique among universities of the same era has chosen to taken a leadership role in addressing the human dimension of its complicity in slavery. Contrast this with the highly controversial decisions taken at Yale and Princeton to not take simple actions to even remove the names of individuals who were staunchly bigoted and who's moral compass cannot be rightly redeemed through any lens of past accomplishment, no matter how great you deem them to be.

No matter how gifted a diplomat, or how successful a businessperson, an individual who subscribed to an ideology of hate leaves a legacy more injurious than any other monument if these so-called institutions of inclusivity and free expression continue to honor their memory; these buildings cast tall shadows of their image and name upon people who continue to struggle with enough injustices, enough intolerance, enough cruelty, that it need not be chipped into the stone facade of these ivory towers as an ever present reminder of their continuing insignificance in the face of men long dead but who's ideals live on, if only by casual disregard. This only serves as a reminder that hate, in any form, can be justified by an end.

Georgetown’s legacy of slavery is America’s as well. Though not perfect by any measure, Georgetown has confronted its painful past courageously — and we should, too.
Jay (Los Angeles, California)
I am one who fully supports the (non) action on the part of Yale and Princeton, respectively. While I understand your argument—may actually agree to an extent—I believe that whitewashing the names from buildings, etc. is ridiculous in that it's part of the university's past.

Whether people like it or not, so & so did found xyz. You can't re-write that type of history. It remains relevant as you cannot separate it from fact. In removing names, renaming monuments, etc. you are, in effect, stripping the history of various institutions.

Man is not, nor has he ever been, perfect. Though extreme, these are shining examples of that. It is possible to pay tribute/remembrance to the darker side of an institution & honour those who suffered with the addition of history, monuments, new buildings, etc. Unlike fully scraping away remnants of days long past, to me, it shows that we accept the good with the bad & learn from egregious mistakes.

Trying to repaint history to better fit a current political climate or societal narrative, no matter how well intentioned, is only another way of distancing ones' self from that which they many view as distasteful. Don't re-write history—expand on it, learn from it, but don't throw away the old because of past actions you dislike. All of history is going to encompass a number of things we consider wrong today. That shouldn't mean we go around & rename or remove something every time it doesn't suit our narrative.
John Brown (Idaho)
Fr. Collins, S.J. makes his moral case but he paints too broadly.

[Unless Professor/Father Collins has left the Jesuits, should he not have a
S.J. after his name ? ]

The sins of the Jesuits are theirs and theirs alone as are the sins of those
who bought and transported the slaves.

Those who came after slavery was abolished had no moral part in it.
Those who never owned a slave or condoned the practice of slavery
while it was legal, are not as guilty as the Jesuits who did practice slavery.

As such Slavery is not the actual history nor the legacy of most Americans.

Painting with too broad a brush does not ensure justice,
AJ (Noo Yawk)
How about generations of discrimination, racism, denial of opportunity, subjugation, etc., etc., etc.? Can the blame for that at least be shared? If so, is Father Collins off in his thinking?
Debi (New York City)
@ John Brown: "As such Slavery is not the actual history nor the legacy of most Americans."

I respectfully suggest that if you truly understood the way that slavery had seeped into every aspect of American life by the antebellum period, you would not subscribe to the sentiments you've expressed here. Ditto for the lingering effects of that institution as evidenced by lynchings, Jim Crow laws, red-lining and other ills the country has endured since the 19th and early 20th centuries.
abelianprune (southeast minnesota)
Whether or not the religious congregation's identifying initials appear is a function of the publication's (in this case, that of the New York Times) policy. Search, e.g., for articles/op-ed pieces by James Martin -- every inch a Jesuit priest, but not identified by a post-fixed SJ.
JMBaltimore (Maryland)
The current obsession with assignment of collective guilt for slavery is unhealthy and does little for American society. There is almost no institution in America in the 18th century, when Georgetown was founded, that was not touched by slavery, especially south of the Mason-Dixon line. Indigenous African kingdoms participated vigorously in the Euro-American slave trade. Arabic Muslims did as well.

It has recently come to light that Elihu Yale, whose founding gift established Yale College, was a slave trader in the Far East. I wonder if Yale will be giving back his money with 300 years of compound interest and changing its name.
NorthernVirginia (Falls Church, Va)
". . . as I remember, the reasoning of my circle of grade-school friends — mostly the grandchildren of Irish, Polish and Italian immigrants — was that our families had arrived too late to have a share in any culpability."

I watched a group of people sworn in as new citizens earlier this week. How dare they act as though they had nothing to do with slavery! The same goes for our current President! What gives them all a free pass?

(Do you see the utter preposterousness of this opinion piece?)
Matt Porter (Atlanta)
I read the point about the author's childhood friends as a point about the absurdity of not accepting responsibility for a perverse institution upon which our mostly (then) white Anglo Saxon society was built. At the very least, immigrants who become new citizens should know our nation's full history so that they help improve its future. Did I misunderstand his point?
TDurk (Rochester NY)
Rev Collins makes astute and moral observation that "America would not be America except for its deplorable history of slavery."

He, and all of us, could make the a similar statement for the westward expansion and the genocidal war upon native Americans.

Without trying to rationalize the behavior of people who lived hundreds of years before us, its also worth noting that both forms of domination were the expected norms for people of those eras, whether they were Jesuits, S Carolina rednecks, British soldiers, Asian warlords and so on. All of them believed that primitive people were there to be conquered. That was true of all civilizations since Rome.

Like the Germans, Americans must learn that slavery was a sordid chapter of our history.

The question remains, what to do about recompense in earthly terms since none of us have godlike ability to change history. Actually, given the state of affairs for the past few hundred years, its not clear that god could change history; at least thus far, he hasn't.

If a Civil War, reconstruction and the Civil Rights legislation is not enough atone for the damage done for slavery, what else is there?

Reparations? Who pays whom? How much?

Vengeance? Who inflicts a modern day equivalent of violence upon whom? Just direct descendants of the slaves and the slaveholders?

Yes, we as a people must address the stain of slavery and the paradoxical economic benefit of slavery to the growth of this nation. We also have to move on.
jzzy55 (New England)
Here's the thing about slavery we Americans (all of us) still don't seem to know/acknowledge/grasp as a citizenry: economically speaking,slavery is not just a chapter in the book of American history. It's more like half the chapters, the covers, the end-papers, the binding and the spine.
From Cornell historian Edward Baptist:
1783 at the end of the American Revolution to 1861, the number of slaves in the United States increased five times over, and all this expansion produced a powerful nation. For white enslavers were able to force enslaved African-American migrants to pick cotton faster and more efficiently than free people. Their practices rapidly transformed the southern states into the dominant force in the global cotton market, and cotton was the world’s most widely traded commodity at the time, as it was the key raw material during the first century of the industrial revolution. The returns from cotton monopoly powered the modernization of the rest of the American economy, and by the time of the Civil War, the United States had become the second nation to undergo large-scale industrialization. In fact, slavery’s expansion shaped every crucial aspect of the economy and politics of the new nation—not only increasing its power and size, but also, eventually, dividing US politics, differentiating regional identities and interests, and helping to make civil war possible.
Ryan Bingham (Up there)
It certainly did not.
TDurk (Rochester NY)
jzzy55, Edward Baptist is right and any informed reading of the history of the period between 1783 and 1861 bears him out. No question. Dred Scott. Roger Taney. Andrew Jackson. You cannot dig into any decade without digging into the issue. The history demands to be taught and more importantly, demands to be learned.

That said, we still have to move on. The past cannot be undone. Worse, the past cannot be made whole. So it's up to every one of us, black, white, brown, asian, to learn from what happened and move on to what's next as better informed and more humanistic people.
Jack (Boston)
Today's standards are much different from those of 150 years ago, when it was widely (but not universally) held that black people were subhuman. That made it easy for whites to treat them like commodities. It never justified the additional cruelty many blacks suffered.

Today, though not where we need to be, we are much more enlightened, which makes it easy to judge much more harshly the actions of whites 150 years ago.
Tom (Illinois)
We don't have to judge the people of 150 years ago in order to understand the effects of their actions on the slaves and their descendants.
Godfrey (Nairobi, Kenya)
I think there may still be some whites who wish they were alive 150 years ago. At least they seem to treat blacks with similar contempt. They are the ones who should be treated more harshly since we would expect them to know better.
See also