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University of Delaware Exploring Legacy of Slavery at its Newark Campus

University of Delaware Exploring Legacy of Slavery at its Newark Campus

“The first line of research was to look at the university archives’ land records, and part of that is to see who did own this land”

This is part of a new trend in higher education. Georgetown University started a similar program a few years ago.

WHYY News reports:

University of Delaware to explore slavery legacy at the Newark campus

As part of an anti-racism effort born out of last year’s nationwide protests, the University of Delaware has launched a deeper exploration of its history as it relates to both enslaved people and the treatment of Black students.

University buildings at the Newark campus were not built using slave labor, unlike schools including the University of Virginia. But that doesn’t mean UD has a clear record when it comes to people held as slaves.

Alison Parker, who chairs UD’s history department, said that the “legacy of enslavement and the dispossession of indigenous people” weaves through the university’s history, which goes back to 1743.

“Something that we can take all the way through to segregation and even the fight for desegregation in 1950, when Black students who wanted to come to UD had to sue the university, and the university actually opposed desegregation at that point. So there’s a lot to look at,” Parker said.

A team of 21 students has been doing the initial research, which will aim to uncover even more of those stories now that UD has joined the Universities Studying Slavery consortium.

“The first line of research was to look at the university archives’ land records, and part of that is to see who did own this land and was the land owned by people who were enslavers or people who held African Americans as indentured servants in long indentures such as 30 years, even in the years after the Civil War, which in fact we have found,” she said.


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The Friendly Grizzly | July 12, 2021 at 8:57 am

When I read the phrase “legacy of slavery”, I hear a Paul Robeson voice. “Legisehh ob SLEHHHH-vrehh”.

Perhaps we need legal scholars rather than historians to interpret their findings.
1) It does not matter who owned the property before the university purchased it. The University is a holder in due course and the sins of the prior owners are not relevant to the University, who paid a fair price for the land. All land was “owned” by displaced native Americans prior to European colonization, so all of this finger pointing and guilt trip is just silly.
2) As to a policy of racially segregated schools, the policy was made by the duly elected state legislatures. The original Morrill Act passed by Congress was silent on the question of whether the land grant colleges were to be racially segregated, and many northern states, like Cornell, were open to black students from the start. However, some states excluded black students, prompting the enactment of the Second Morrill Act in August 1890, that required those states with all-white Land Grant colleges to open a second school for blacks if they were not allowed to attend the existing ones. This resulted in the founding of the most HBCUs.

Hence, Delaware State University was founded in 1891 as a land grant college to serve “colored students.” Any historical analysis must consider the resources that Delaware sent to both institutions. I personally think that racial segregation is wrong (contrary to current college students), but if the state policy and social expectations in Delaware wanted that, the reality should be acknowledged. Rather than saying “contributions from the black community were undervalued and unwelcomed at the University of Delaware” it would be more accurate to say “the black community of Delaware focused their efforts on a separate institution — Delaware State University — during this time period, and the institution has received state and federal funding from 1891 until today.”

I, for one, will always have a special fondness for DSU because Jerome “Brud” Holland (referenced by Robert Redford in the movie “The Way We Were”) was President of DSU from 1953-60. He later went on to serve as a Trustee of Cornell University and Ambassador to Sweden under President Nixon (neither post involved slavery nor involuntary servitude.)