September 3rd, 2016

Georgetown University tries to expiate its guilt over slavery

Georgetown is a Jesuit school trying to atone for an episode in its past:

In an effort to acknowledge its ties to slavery, Georgetown University will offer the descendants of nearly 300 slaves preferential treatment in its admissions process.

In 1838, the school sold 272 slaves who were working on plantations in southern Maryland to pay down its debts.

Now, the school said it will give the descendants of those slaves “the same consideration we give members of the Georgetown community” when they apply. That means that the applicants will “receive an extra look” and that their relationship to the university will be considered.


It’s not as though these descendants aren’t required to meet certain standards; they are. It’s just that the standards are slightly lower, and equivalent to those required for what used to be called “legacies.”

And Georgetown is free to do whatever it wants concerning admissions. I suppose this would not be considered any more discriminatory than already-existing preferences for “diversity” (racial, geographic, economic, what-have-you) or the already-existing preference for the descendants of those who have attended the school and/or given it money.

However, I have reservations about this one (not that Georgetown cares). The first is that it is a rather arbitrary thing. The slaves themselves were wronged by being sold into conditions that were almost certainly worse than those they were already enduring (they had been in Maryland and ended up in Louisiana). Their immediate descendants of the next couple of generations likewise probably suffered. But, eight generations later (that’s what I calculate an 18-year-old living today would probably be)? Can we really assume that that person today is still feeling some effects of that 1838 sale, and should be given preferential treatment because of it?

Also by my calculations (which are both rough and quick, so I certainly might have made errors), if you imagine two descendants for each of those eight generations, there would now be 139,263 descendants in all. How on earth could those people be found? Apparently, “research conducted by Georgetown and other organizations, including The New York Times, has identified many living descendants of the slaves.” But I bet it’s only a very small fraction of the actual descendants. Another interesting question is whether any of these descendants are white, and what’s to be done about them. Do they get special treatment, too? After all, when people track their DNA, it’s not at all unusual for people who are to all intents and purposes white to find they have some black ancestry, which could be assumed to have occurred for many of them back in the days of slavery. Do those descendants get special treatment, too?

As I said, Georgetown is free to do this. My guess is that it has more to do with the Georgetown administrators’ own feelings of guilt for something that happened about 175 years ago, an act perpetrated by people they have nothing to do with except for ties to the same institution. How far back does one take guilt, I wonder? And does this really change anything, except Georgetown’s PR?

[NOTE: If you want to learn the backstory of the pressure that was brought to bear on Georgetown regarding its slave-selling history, please see this. It’s been going on for a long time. Daniel Berrigan was instrumental in the preface to it many decades ago, as part of his general leftist (and in his case, Catholic and Jesuit) focus on American and Western guilt.]

40 Responses to “Georgetown University tries to expiate its guilt over slavery”

  1. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Can one expiate self-hate? It is that which lies at the heart of white guilt.

  2. Cornhead Says:

    I consider this a totally inadequate response. Georgetown should establish and fund a scholarship pool at $33 million; ten times the present value of the slave sale proceeds. It does little for a descendent to get admitted to GT and then have to pay full fare.

    I also note the university is funding some kind of academic think tank or such. Add that to the wasted money on its Climate Center.

    I have always disliked Georgetown for many reasons. They refused to play Creighton in basketball for years but now have to play us twice. I look forward to beating the Hoyas twice this year with their over-rated coach, the legacy John Thompson, III.

    Georgetown is part of the East Coast liberal establishment. Here they try to make themselves look good and feel good but they do little with their own money. Typical.

    And that Ray McGovern piece was nutty. I don’t blame Georgetown for George Tenant much less Bill Clinton. And Scalia was a Hoya.

  3. Lee Says:

    Okay, let’s see… I am descended from Irish who fled during the Potato Famine. The severity of the Famine was essentially caused by British policies in Ireland.


  4. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    Bravo. Go back far enough and we all have victims in our ancestry. As for reparations, what about the African blacks who captured and sold African slaves in the first place? What about the descendants of the 4000 black southern slave owners? Then, there’s the Muslim slave owner reparations… ad infinitum.

    But this isn’t about slavery or reparations, it’s about advancing and further entrenching the narrative.

  5. Cornhead Says:

    I don’t necessarily agree with GT’s decision here but if you are going to apologize at least do it right and make it meaningful.

    GT is in a different position than most. It was owned by the Society of Jesus. While legal, there is no way Jesus or St. Ignatius would have EVER approved of slavery. But, compare, Mohammed.

  6. j e Says:

    I would argue that there is probably no-one on the political left who is more concerned with the tens of millions of humans enslaved at this very moment than with those who were enslaved hundreds of years ago. One has only to consider the silence among leftists and feminists concerning the tens of thousands of young English girls brutalized and kept in sexual slavery by Muslims in England over the last several decades, not to mention the Christians and Yazidis subjugated by ISIS, among countless other examples.

  7. Cornhead Says:

    Excellent point by j e. Focus on the present. Do something for today’s slaves. Forget about 1838.

    And one can bet that there will be “slaveowners” chants at GT’s away games. (But not at Creighton.)

  8. Dennis Says:

    Cornhead Says at 6:50 pm:

    “Excellent point by j e. Focus on the present. Do something for today’s slaves.”

    They have done something. They just hired Jesse Morton, a former recruiter for Al Qaeda. Apparently guilt from 150 years ago can not be expunged but guilt from 15 years ago means nothing.

  9. Matt_SE Says:

    There’s only one way to get rid of racism, and that’s colorblindness. Bestowing privileges based on race is just more racism.
    And BTW, colorblindness as an idea is such a threat to the racial grievance industry that it’s now singled out for denunciation.

  10. Caedmon Says:

    This is very far from any of my business, but I rather approve. There is timeless quality to Institutions, especially Christian institutions, so time does not necessarily exonerate them from historical actions.

    And this is not about obliterating the past: renaming buildings, tearing down statues, smashing windows and other Year Zero acts going on elsewhere in the Ivy League. I am sure Georgetown has other historical legacies, so creating a new one is appropriate; taking the descendants of the slaves back into the family, so to speak.

    So to answer the potential hard case: if one of the descendants turns out to be blonde, blue eyed and the child of wealthy Republicans should they be beneficiaries of the legacy? Yes, they should.

  11. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Yes they should, but no they won’t.

    This is not, imo, about any feelings of guilt on the part of the admin.
    It’s virtue-signaling. Let’s see, maybe, Yale top this.

  12. David Foster Says:

    I agree with Richard Aubrey. This has nothing to do with feelings of personal guilt or self-hate; it has to do with preening and moral posturing.

  13. oldflyer Says:

    I also agree with Richard Aubrey.
    Then I wonder, am I just too cynical?
    Hardly think that is possible these days.

  14. Julie near Chicago Says:

    Sign me up with Richard, David, and oldflyer. That’s the way it strikes me, too.

    (Although, the White Guilt that official Georgetown seems to think we should all share no doubt supplies it with some excuse to bolster its own morale, and to make it look Saintly to its natural community.)

  15. Frog Says:

    Is Neo guilty of a little geographic bigotry?

    “The slaves themselves were wronged by being sold into conditions that were almost certainly worse than those they were already enduring (they had been in Maryland and ended up in Louisiana).”

    You think they wore suits/dresses/white gloves and waited on tables in MD, but dug ditches in LA?

    Your neo-veneer is a bit thin today. You sound like a liberal. Or a Yankee, since Maryland stayed in the Union for the Civil War. Or both.

  16. Eric Says:

    “My guess is that it has more to do with the Georgetown administrators’ own feelings of guilt for something that happened about 175 years ago, an act perpetrated by people they have nothing to do with except for ties to the same institution.”

    It has more to do with the social mechanics of universities.

    This is basically a product of campus activists who pushed the same buttons that were pushed by the recent Ivy League ROTC campus activists who successfully restored the institutional status of ROTC, thus enabling the Ivy League schools to “expiate [their] guilt” over the stigmatization of the military on campus that was the product of Vietnam War era campus activists in the first place.

    Activism, of course, is method, not ideology. It’s the power of the people that’s available to any one for any cause, including conservatives.

    Activism is particularly effective in universities, which are sensitized to respond constructively to effective campus activism.

  17. Lizzy Says:

    Will they also reject foreign students from countries where slavery is still practiced?

  18. neo-neocon Says:


    I am basing that statement about the conditions the slaves faced on something very specific.

    I read several articles that purported that the actual conditions of these actual slaves (the ones sold by Georgetown) in Louisiana were worse than the same slaves had faced in Maryland.

    For example, there is this:

    Two priests who took turns as president of Georgetown in those years, the Rev. Thomas Mulledy and the Rev. William McSherry, orchestrated the 1838 sale, for a price of $115,000, or $3.3 million today, breaking families apart. Many ended up in Louisiana, “where they labored under dreadful conditions on cotton and sugar plantations,” some sold to the widow of a notorious slave trader, according to the report.

    The episode has been known to scholars for decades.

    It is also commonly (and NOT just among liberals) claimed that slaves themselves were afraid of being sold to plantations in the Deep South, and that it was because conditions there were felt to be worse than in the more northern slaveholding states. This was apparently (so I have read) because in the Deep South larger plantations that used overseers were more numerous.

    I am not holding myself out to be an expert on slavery conditions in all the different states, but that is something that is generally thought to be a generalization based on fact. I am sure that in certain circumstances there were exceptions; perhaps even as a generalization it is incorrect, but I’ve never read anything that claims that.

    I have no particular feelings about one part of the South versus the other. Nor do these statements have anything to do with liberals vs. conservatives, or my personal point of view.

  19. neo-neocon Says:


    That’ what the “NOTE” at the end of my post is a reference to.

  20. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “Is Neo guilty of a little geographic bigotry?” Frog

    I would add to neo response some relevant facts and history.
    “In 1830 there were 3,775 such black slaveholders in the South who owned a total of 12,760 slaves. 80% of the black slaveholders were located in Louisiana, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland.”

    “There were economic and ethnic differences between free blacks of the Upper South and Deep South, with the latter fewer in number, but wealthier and typically of mixed race. Half of the black slaveholders lived in cities rather than the countryside, with most living in New Orleans and Charleston.

    Especially New Orleans had a large, relatively wealthy free black population (gens de couleur) composed of people of mixed race, who had become a third social class between whites and enslaved blacks, under French and Spanish colonial rule.

    Relatively few slaveholders of color were “substantial planters.” Of those who were, most were of mixed race, often endowed by white fathers with some property and social capital. For example, Andrew Durnford of New Orleans was listed as owning 77 slaves. According to Rachel Kranz: “Durnford was known as a stern master who worked his slaves hard and punished them often in his efforts to make his Louisiana sugar plantation a success.”

    In 1860 there were over 3000 black slaves owned by other blacks in just New Orleans.

    “…the percentage of free black slave owners as the total number of free black heads of families was quite high in several states, namely 43 percent in South Carolina, 40 percent in Louisiana, 26 percent in Mississippi, 25 percent in Alabama and 20 percent in Georgia.” African-American history and culture scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.

    Given all of the above, it’s highly likely that the odds were greater for harsher treatment, if a slave lived in the deep South.

  21. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain:

    Ah, but facts? It’s so much more fun to accuse me of being a closet liberal and an anti-Southern one at that. 🙂

  22. Frog Says:

    Why, the “report” from which Neo has quoted is part of the Georgetown faculty-staff report that recommended lineal descendants of said slaves be admitted to Georgetown! At lower admission standards, it is said. And inflated grades despite free tutoring in the basics will follow. Many will not graduate. Georgetown basketball, all black, graduates less than 80%. And they get super treatment.

    I cannot deem this report objective. It is the result of academic self-flagellation. Well, not self, but the flagellation of the long departed Georgetowners, a blame that touches the present academes not at all.

    G.B. cites in his comment the interesting facts that “80% of the black slaveholders were located in Louisiana, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland.” And free black slaveowners were not “substantial planters” and tended to live in cities. Fascinating. What did their slaves do in cities? They had to be productive.

    I do not understand from G.B.’s comments on the history of black slaveowners how he gets to the conclusion that “it’s highly likely that the odds were greater for harsher treatment, if a slave lived in the deep South.” Please explain.

  23. Frog Says:

    You cite Henry Louis Gates,Jr., the Harvard A-A prof, who’s indignation at being arrested by a white cop while trying to break into his own home in Cambridge MA led to the beer summit with Obama. He is a professional melanin bearer, much like Juan Williams. In Gates I see racial self-pity and opportunism, not objectivity.

    Neo: sorry to be snippy. But I think I have made clear the differences that provoked me. My personal time with Bostonians and Boston, including a course at the Kennedy School, has in general been disappointing. Arrogant about the South, the Deep South especially, which most have never visited (Florida does not count!).

  24. neo-neocon Says:


    I’ve only traveled through the Deep South once, in the 70s, and I remember rather liking it and it seemed to me things were better there at the time between the races than I had previously been led to believe.

  25. jon baker Says:


  26. jon baker Says:

    I can actually post again.

  27. jon baker Says:

    As a reader for about nine years and a lifelong southerner-Louisiana and Texas- I really like Neo . I have never detected any anti-southern bias from her.

  28. Richard Aubrey Says:

    See “sold down the river”.

  29. Cornhead Says:


    Jesse Morton was hired by George Washington University; Huma Abedin’s alma mater. Different schools in the same town.

  30. Tom G Says:

    This is so terrible — the sins of the father should NOT make the son guilty.

    Guilt over ancestors’ crimes is wrong.

    Shame, and more realistic compassion for today’s suffering, is good.

    Pointing out historical injustices is ok, I used to think it good, but today it seems too anti-Christian, anti-capitalistic selective.

    Note that Kareem Abdul Jabbar recently claimed Catholic acceptance/ support of slavery was a part of the reason he became Muslim — yet he, a very well-read and famous neo-intellectual, seems oblivious to the reality of Muslim slavers capturing free Negroes in Africa and turning them into slaves. Not in the hundreds, but in the hundreds of thousands.

  31. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Tom G. Kareem is either a lot dumber than his public relations guys make out, or he’s lying like a rug.
    In the first case, he wouldn’t know the difference even if it were explained to him in words of one syllable.
    In the second case, he doesn’t care about the truth or slavery, but is using it in the libs’ restricted application; slavery is only bad when Christians do it.

  32. John Says:

    Not good enough. If sincere, the administration would go all-in embracing its white guilt by shutting down the university and distributing the assets as reparations–perhaps sowing the ground with salt too. Public floggings of the administrators and faculty are also an option.

  33. gracepc Says:

    As an alum and a Catholic my comments about GU are personal and will not stand up to the rigor of this site. But on a personal level I do know that as an alum my opinion is not singular.

    It is my belief that GU is not Catholic in the sense that there are few Catholics I know who would shroud a cross for political acceptance. It is Jesuit amplified. They maintain that they are Catholic to claim the bragging rights to “oldest catholic university….”

    There is probably no liberal social activist cause that John J. DeGioia would not steer the school towards. My view of the current issue is nothing more than playing for political favor and the social activism of the day.

    Georgetown is fortunate to have so much upon which to rest its laurels. I would not be surprised to see it as Potemkin University dressed up like GU and operating as Mizzou on the Potomac.

    2 very tarnished and worn cents.

  34. fiona Says:

    As an alum – note that I ceased giving to my alma mater Georgetown when it accepted 25 million dollars from Awalaweed ben Talal for an Islamic center. Maybe he can kick in for the reparations and include some for the current slaves held in Muslim countries.

  35. Cornhead Says:

    Gracepc and Fiona:

    You can always adopt Creighton. 🙂

    Seriously, liberalism wrecked GT. I forgot about the $25M for that Islamic Center. I don’t think St. Ignatius would have been okay with that.

  36. Cornhead Says:

    I wonder what Justice Scalia thought of his alma mater in recent years.

  37. GRA Says:

    >>And Georgetown is free to do whatever it wants concerning admissions.

    Freedom of choice (and speech) reveals the idiocy of a person or institution. In this case, Georgetown had revealed it’s an institution of bizarre priorities. What they perceive as their true north is just a broken moral compass. Ironic, given what they’re trying to amend for.

  38. GRA Says:

    @ gracepc: ” It is Jesuit amplified.”

    That’s part of the problem. Jesuits play the “open-minded” game all the while handing Christians over to be fed to the lions and to be beheaded (hypothetically, of course).

  39. Cornhead Says:

    My late friend and president of both USF and Creighton Fr. John Schlegel always said, “We teach you how to think, not what to think.”

    I was a liberal in college but my Jesuit education allowed me to convert to conservatism.

    Schlegel was a liberal but wore it lightly. He was grounded in the Gospel. He also was a gourmet cook and lover of fine wine.

  40. Steve57 Says:

    Lee said:

    Okay, let’s see… I am descended from Irish who fled during the Potato Famine. The severity of the Famine was essentially caused by British policies in Ireland.


    I’m going to catch hell for this. But slaves were valuable. The Irish weren’t. Slaves were, what fifteen hundred bucks? Two grand? The Irish were a dollar a day. And if an Irishman got bit by a Water Moccasin working in a swamp, you didn’t pay him. So his last day was free.

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