Georgetown University Renames Buildings Tied to Slavery Past

After a Nov. 12 student demonstration on campus and a sit-in in the front of his office on Nov. 13 and 14, Georgetown University John DeGioia approved the striking of names off two main campus buildings, which held the names of Georgetown University presidents who worked on a deal in 1838 that sold 272 slaves, owned by the university.

“As a university, we are a place where conversations are convened and dialogue is encouraged, even on topics that may be difficult,” DeGioia wrote in a Nov. 14 letter to the university. “This is what we will continue to do at Georgetown. We are supportive of our students and proud of the depth of their engagement in these urgent conversations.”

Students are also demanding that the university offer more information about black history on the campus, including programs, plaques and marking where slaves were buried, set up required diversity training for professors and fund an endowment for black professors. Protestors want the professors’ fund to be equivalent in 2015 dollars to the 1838 sale of 272 slaves — roughly estimated, conservatively, at $3.25 million with the average price for a human being at $500 in 1838.

Mulledy Hall was part of the repurposed buildings for new student dormitory housing, right at the school’s Quadangle. It was named for Rev. Thomas F. Mulledy, S.J., the 17th and 22th president of Georgetown University. He was also the first president of the College of Holy Cross, which also has a building named for him. A small building built in 1792, south of the Ryan and Gervase dormitories, was named for the university’s 18th president, Rev. William McSherry, S.J., who closed the deal on the slaves, sending them from Maryland to Louisiana as abolitionist protests began to cause devaluation of the Jesuits’ plantations in Maryland.

When the closed buildings were renovated, the name of Mulledy came to light, and a student column in the Hoya decried that the building would still be named for a slave-holder. The issue grew, along with other demands by students, such as reparations by Georgetown University for the slave sale. Students and supporters used hashtags #BuiltOn272 and #GU272 to spread the news.

The name change was proposed the university’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation — a group charged by DeGioia to discuss the problem. It offered it take over the weekend: “Until a broader conversation within the community enables us to recommend a permanent renaming of these buildings, we propose to the entire community that for the remainder of the academic year we refer to the Mulledy Building as ‘Freedom Hall’ and to the McSherry Building as ‘Remembrance Hall.’

“We propose the provisional name ‘Freedom Hall’ for two reasons: first, ‘freedom’ is, quite simply, exactly what the Society of Jesus and Georgetown College chose not to offer the enslaved in the early nineteenth century. And second, the name would give recognition to the historical, global, and pervasive fight for freedom that people around the world are still engaged in and dream to realize.

“We propose the provisional name ‘Remembrance Hall’ for three reasons: first, remembering the specific persons whose involuntary servitude has unjustly enriched our university is exactly what we have failed to do. Second, remembering this history and these people is at the heart of our current undertaking. And third, remembering this history and these people is what we want to ensure for the future. In addition, we are mindful of the current purpose of ‘Remembrance Hall’ as a center for meditation and the part that meditation can play in bringing peoples together in peace.”

The group plans to hold a discussion about the issues involved on Nov. 18 and 19 and a teach-in on Dec. 1.


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