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Georgetown University Is Trying to Purge Its Slave Trade Connections

Financed in part by the sale of 272 people, the school is grappling with its relationship to the institution of slavery

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Georgetown University is known for its stately buildings, top-notch programs and long history. But that history has a dark side, too: The Catholic university, which was founded in 1789 and is located in Washington, DC, got some of its funding from the sale of slaves. Now, the school has decided to rename two buildings that reflect its ties to that industry, reports Katherine Shaver for The Washington Post.

The school’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation recently recommended that the university’s president, John J. DeGioia, rename a residence hall, Mulledy Hall, and a meditation center, McSherry Hall, reports Shaver. The move comes after a sit-in outside of De Gioia’s office and demands that the halls be renamed.

Mulledy Hall, which was recently constructed, was named for Thomas F. Mulledy, who incurred a large debt while serving as Georgetown’s president in the 1830s. To finance the debt, he oversaw the sale of 272 slaves under the auspices of the Corporation of Roman Catholic Clergymen, a Jesuit organization that owned a tobacco plantation in Maryland and went on to found Georgetown. WAMU’s Michael Pope explains that Mulledy disregarded orders to keep the slaves’ families intact and not to use the sale of slaves to pay debts. Mulledy Hall will be temporarily named Freedom Hall, Shaver reports. 

The other hall was named after William McSherry, another university president who advised Mulledy on the sale. It will be renamed Remembrance Hall until it can be permanently renamed, Shaver continues.

Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation has been in existence since September, when it convened to make decisions on how to reconcile the university's present with its past relationship with the institution of slavery. On its website, the group lists names of 16 members from the university administration, student body and community and includes suggested readings and statements on slavery.

Though the group recommended the name changes first and foremost, their response to Georgetown’s legacy of slavery doesn’t answer every demand of the university’s student activists. Elizabeth Teitz reports for Georgetown Voice that activists’ other demands include renaming another hall, including slave history in campus tours, marking the graves of slaves on campus and endowing new professors of color. Until they get all of their demands, activists will continue using the hashtag #Builton272 to raise awareness for their cause and to remind others that the university of today was funded by the sale of 272 human beings.

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