Brown University recognizes slave trade ties

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March 20, 2009

2:25 AM

Brown University announced plans Tuesday to recognize its connections to the slave trade in accordance to recommendations by the University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. Plans include the construction of a public memorial and the expansion of studies concerning slavery at both the university and Rhode Island public schools.

“The state and the city should view this project as a true partnership with Brown University, given the significant history of slavery in Rhode Island and America,” the commission said in its report.

Founding brothers John and Moses Brown financed Brown, as well as slave voyages. While Moses became a Quaker and an abolitionist later in life, John continued to defend the slave trade. Slaves built the university’s first building, University Hall, and slave dealers gave the university money, labor and materials.

Brown President Ruth Simmons, the first black president of an Ivy League school, appointed the Committee on Slavery and Justice to study the university’s ties to slavery and recommend how it should take responsibility.

The committee made six recommendations, including building a public memorial and funding for grants for research on slavery and the slave trade. Other recommendations included determining how the topic was taught at the university and in public schools and providing money for lectures and events tied to slavery. The university will expand or create a new academic center to study slavery and justice.

Brown plans to endow $10 million for these initiatives. So far, $1.5 million has been raised.

“We have begun a search … to find a faculty leader who’s a world expert in the history of slavery,” Provost David Kertzer told the Brown Daily Herald, an independent newspaper at the university.

Kertzer said this faculty leader would deal with the history of slavery, its contemporary legacy and its ethical and social implications.

The Commission on Memorials, which has ten members with expertise on subjects including public art displays, local black experience and slavery’s history, looked at memorials such as the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala. and the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England. The Public Art Committee will plan the memorial, which may not be located on campus.

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