Brown Issues Expanded Report on University's Involvement with Slavery

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Brown University’s groundbreaking 2006 report on the ways in which it has benefitted from the slave trade is getting an update. The university announced the release of an expanded second edition, including essays reflecting on the report’s impact from current and former scholars at Brown, university leaders, and alumni.

Dr. Anthony Bogues, the Asa Messer Professor of Humanities and Critical Theory, and a professor of Africana Studies at Brown, said that the time was right. “It was coming up to 15 years [since the original publication], and there’s a great national conversation [about] our racial reckoning in the United States," said Bogues, who is also the director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown and the editor of the new edition of the report. "Those things created a moment [when] we thought the report should be re-issued.” 

The second edition is available both as a printed book and an open-access interactive website, which allows users to zoom in on photos, illustrations, and documents, and to read transcripts. This allows for close examination of artifacts like building records from Brown’s University Hall, showing that it was built with donated slave labor and a bill of landing for a slave ship sent by the Brown brothers.

Brown’s ties to the slave trade ranged from the members of its governing body to the donors to its first endowment campaign. Even an antique clock in the office where the Steering Committee met turned out to have been owned by a former slave ship captain and Brown Trustee. The report ended with recommendations for how the university could make up for its “entanglement” with slavery.

Public reaction to the report was much more positive than to the committee’s formation. Brown’s public reckoning inspired a national dialogue about how institutions have benefitted from slavery, and approximately 100 schools embarked on their own similar projects. Brown’s work also inspired the creation of the Universities Studying Slavery Consortium at the University of Virginia, an international group of over 75 schools devoted to addressing slavery and racism in institutional histories.


“Re-reading the Slavery and Justice Report in 2021, I am struck by…the expectation that a full, honest engagement with the American past would facilitate a different and better American future. This was perhaps…unduly optimistic,” writes Dr. Seth Rockman, an associate professor of History. Rockman’s essay points out that even after the report’s publication, the percentage of Black faculty and students at Brown remains in the single digits.

Dr. Emily A. Owens, an assistant professor of History, wondered if the report was enough to spur further meaningful action.

“Have our students, and our community at large, come to know just enough about the University’s relationship with slavery to be comfortable?” she asks in her essay. Owens’s essay proposes that the CSSJ offer an undergraduate course on how institutions have supported slavery throughout history and that CSSJ host a year-long residential fellowship program.

Read entire article at Diverse Education

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