Many U.S. universities in recent years have begun to evaluate their connections to slavery, and Harvard is one of them. On Tuesday, the university announced a $100 million fund to redress its ties to slavery following a report that said that the university’s leaders enslaved people in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The report was written by a committee appointed in 2019 by Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow. Released on Tuesday, the report found that slavery thrived in New England from its beginnings, including at Harvard University. The report said that the university faculty, leaders and staff enslaved over 70 people between its founding in 1636 and 1783. Many of those enslaved lived and worked on campus.
According to the report, Harvard “had extensive financial ties to and profited from slavery in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries,” adding that “some donors had ties to slave trade through plantations in the South and Caribbean islands and through textile manufacturing operations in the North that were supplied by cotton grown by enslaved people.”
Some of the money donated to Harvard by private individuals in the 19th century were from men who had built wealth from slavery. The report said these donors helped the university build a national reputation, hire faculty, support students, grow its collections, expand its physical footprint and develop its infrastructure.
While the school also broadly promoted racism, some of the benefactors who had connections to slavery are today memorialized by Harvard through buildings, professorships, and statues, the report said. Bacow, in a campus message, said that the school “perpetuated practices that were profoundly immoral,” AP reported.
“Consequently, I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals, on Harvard, and on our society,” he wrote. He said the report comes with recommendations that he is all for, and so he will create a $100 million fund to work on those recommendations.
The 130-page report calls on the university to “identify, engage, and support” direct descendants of enslaved workers early in the university’s history. The report also recommends a closer partnership between Harvard and historically Black colleges and universities while expanding education in underserved areas. It asks the University to reach broader groups that have mostly been excluded from attending Harvard and also create “a permanent and imposing physical memorial, convening space, or both” on campus to recognize the work of enslaved people there.
Over the years, well-known institutions have disclosed similar financial commitments, including Brown University, the Princeton Theological Seminary, and the Jesuit Catholic order.