The Secret History of How Slavery Helped Build America’s Elite Colleges
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The following content originally appeared on Democracy Now!:
A new book 10 years in the making examines how many major U.S. universities — Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Rutgers, Williams and the University of North Carolina, among others — are drenched in the sweat, and sometimes the blood, of Africans brought to the United States as slaves. In " Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities," Massachusetts Institute of Technology American history professor Craig Steven Wilder reveals how the slave economy and higher education grew up together. "When you think about the colonial world, until the American Revolution, there is only one college in the South, William & Mary ... The other eight colleges were all Northern schools, and they’re actually located in key sites, for the most part, of the merchant economy where the slave traders had come to power and rose as the financial and intellectual backers of new culture of the colonies," Wilder says.
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AMY GOODMAN: We turn to a new book 10 years in the making that looks at how some of the country’s major universities—Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Rutgers, Williams, the University of North Carolina, to name just a few—are drenched in sweat, and sometimes the blood, of Africans brought here as slaves. The book is called Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. In it, MIT history professor Craig Steven Wilder reveals how the slave economy and higher education grew up together. He writes, "the American campus stood as a silent monument to slavery." Well, this history is silent no more. Professor Craig Steven Wilder joins us here in New York.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about America’s most elite universities. What relation do they have to slavery?
CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: I think there are multiple relationships. The first and probably most poignant, most provocative, is the relationship to the slave trade itself. In the middle of the 18th century, from 1746 to 1769—fewer than 25 years, less than a quarter century—the number of colleges in the British colonies triples from three to nine. The original three were Harvard, Yale and William & Mary, and all of a sudden there were nine by 1769. And it triples in that 25-year period. That 25-year period actually coincides with the height of the slave trade. It’s precisely the rise and the elaboration of the Atlantic economy, based on the African slave trade, that allows for this sort of fantastic articulation of new growth of the institutional infrastructure of the colonies.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk specifically about particular universities.
CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you are—you do look at some universities in the South—
CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: —but also in the Deep North.
CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Harvard.
CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: It’s a very Northern story, actually. You know, when you think about the colonial world, until the American Revolution, there’s actually only one college in the South: William & Mary. There are a couple of other attempts, but they fail. The other eight colleges are all Northern schools. And they’re actually located in key sites, for the most part, of the merchant economy and where the slave traders had sort of come to power and rose as the sort of financial and intellectual backers of the new culture of the colonies.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about Harvard.
CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Sure. Harvard, actually, from its very beginnings in 1636, the college, by 1638, actually has an enslaved man living on campus, who’s referred to as "the Moor." And—