History

Descendants of slaves who built St. Louis University demand $74 billion in reparations

Descendants of slaves involved in building St. Louis University have demanded $74 billion in reparations for their ancestors’ unpaid labor. However, the university’s endowment is only $1.5 billion, meaning the demand exceeds the school’s assets by over 70 times.

Economist Julianne Malveaux suggests the descendants deserve $365 million, calculated based on the assumption that 70 enslaved individuals worked 24/7 from 1823 to 1865, according to the Daily Mail. The Descendants of St. Louis University Enslaved (DSLUE), a group organized by the great-grandchildren of slaves involved in building the university, are advocating for monetary reparations totaling $365 million.

They argue that with interest accrued over time, this sum would amount to $74 billion. The group of descendants joined by economists and civil rights attorneys gathered outside the Jesuit university, founded in 1818, to unveil their demands for reparations on Tuesday.

Civil rights attorney Areva Martin addressed a letter to University President Fred Pestello, urging the institution to improve. She said the university cannot be blind to its history of owning, selling, and trafficking slaves, to the extent that these individuals were denied wages, subjected to cruelty, and stripped of their humanity. She noted that slaves were relocated from Maryland to St. Louis specifically to construct the college.

Martin, representing more than 200 descendants of Henrietta Mills and Charles Chauvin, expressed a desire to collaborate with university leadership to devise a plan for compensating the descendants.

Robin Proudie, a great-granddaughter of Mills, said they’re not seeking a handout but rather payment of the debt owed to them.

“We decided as a family that we would stand up not only for us but for all of the enslaved descendants of those who built this country.”

Economist Malveaux said: “The calculations that we came up with and the method that we used are time-honored methods. The university, quite frankly, is overdue, negligent, and wrong.” Proudie established DSLUE upon discovering her ancestors’ enslavement in St. Louis.

A statement from SLU conceded the university’s historical involvement in slavery which it described as a grave sin. According to the university, it regrets the slow progress in reconciling with this past, though it is aware of the hurt and frustration it has caused.

“Continuing this work is a priority for SLU and the Society of Jesus. As we move forward, we hope to re-establish and build deeper relationships with all descendant families, to explore together how best to honor the memory of those who were enslaved by the Jesuits.”

In December 2022, St. Louis initiated a commission to deliberate on reparations for descendants affected by racist policies, posing significant challenges in a city with a sizable Black population and struggling socioeconomically.

Mayor Tishaura Jones, a Democrat, issued an executive order forming a nine-member volunteer commission to investigate and propose reparations, following the example of cities in Illinois, California, and Rhode Island.

Jones noted that “The people closest to the problems are closest to the solution.”

“I look forward to reviewing this commission’s work to chart a course that restores the vitality of black communities in our city after decades of disinvestment. We cannot succeed as a city if one-half is allowed to fail.”

Stephen Nartey

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