Johns Hopkins Enslaved People. Or Did He?Historians in the News
tags: slavery, Johns Hopkins, colleges and universities
This winter, Johns Hopkins University leaders made a stunning announcement, one that upended generations of veneration of the school’s founder and namesake: The wealthy Quaker long known as an abolitionist had, school officials announced, enslaved people.
Martha S. Jones, a professor of history who directs the research project Hard Histories at Hopkins, wrote in The Washington Post in December about census records that listed Johns Hopkins as an owner and several enslaved people. Her pride in the school’s contributions had become mixed with bitterness, she wrote. “Our university was the gift of a man who traded in the liberty and dignity of other men and women.”
But a group of other researchers is questioning the university’s findings, calling them inaccurate and misleading. Like other wealthy businessmen of his time, Hopkins surely benefited indirectly from the slave trade, the researchers wrote in a paper published online, and cannot be absolved of complicity. But they say the school went too far in drawing conclusions and have asked the university to strike language from its website that states that Hopkins enslaved people.
The researchers argued that Hopkins’s parents and grandparents freed the family’s enslaved workers before 1800, in keeping with their Quaker faith. They wrote that Hopkins himself was an emancipationist and that the documents available — including tax records — don’t support the school’s claim that he enslaved people.
A couple of the university’s December statements about Hopkins are sweeping conclusions that went far beyond the evidence, said Sydney Van Morgan, International Studies program director at Johns Hopkins and a political scientist who was one of the co-authors of the new report.
The university’s president, Ronald J. Daniels, responded to the authors with an email this spring telling them, “As you would expect, we consulted a number of colleagues and historians before sharing publicly the discovery of the census documents indicating slave ownership by Mr. Hopkins, and we took pains to communicate about those findings in a manner that was both forthcoming and quite careful — fully acknowledging the documented findings of our lead historian in the matter, Dr. Martha Jones, while also embracing the potential for new discoveries, countervailing interpretations, and rigorous debate.”
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