President Lawrence S. Bacow emailed the community on November 21 to announce an “initiative on Harvard and the legacy of slavery,” backed by an initial $5 million in funding and overseen by a faculty committee led by Radcliffe Institute dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School; and Professor of History, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. This interdisciplinary, Harvard-wide initiative follows:
- the 2016 ceremony at which a plaque commemorating the enslaved people who once lived there was placed at Wadsworth House (in part because of student-inspired research overseen by Laird Bell Professor of History Sven Beckert—a member of the new committee);
- Harvard Law School’s coming to terms with its connections to plantation owner (and benefactor) Isaac Royall Jr., himself a slaveowner; and
- Radcliffe hosting a major conference on Harvard and slavery.
Bacow’s announcement said the University initiative will “build on the important work undertaken thus far, provide greater structure and cohesion to a wide array of university efforts, and give additional dimension to our understanding of the impact of slavery. This work will allow us to continue to understand and address the enduring legacy of slavery within our university community.”
Brown-Nagin and Radcliffe, he continued, “will also anchor a range of programmatic and scholarly efforts within this new initiative,” which “will have a strong grounding in rigorous research and critical perspectives that will inform not only our understanding of facts, but also how we might address the ramifications of what we learn.” The initiative “will concentrate on connections, impact, and contributions that are specific to our Harvard community. Harvard has a unique role in the history of our country, and we have a distinct obligation to understand how our traditions and our culture here are shaped by our past and by our surroundings—from the ways the university benefitted from the Atlantic slave trade to the debates and advocacy for abolition on campus.”