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The 17-member Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice offered several recommendations on how the university should take responsibility, including a commitment from the school to recruit and retain minority students, especially those from Africa and the West Indies.
In 2003, Brown President Ruth Simmons, the first black president of an Ivy League school and a descendant of slaves herself, appointed the committee of students, faculty and administrators to study the university’s centuries-old ties to the slave trade.
Brown, the nation’s seventh oldest university, was formally chartered in 1764 as the College of Rhode Island. Its founder, the Rev. James Manning, freed his only slave but accepted donations from slave owners and traders, including the Brown family of Providence. One family member, Nicholas Brown Jr., is the university’s namesake.
As part of its research, the committee had discovered a document hanging in University Hall — the oldest building on campus — that mentions slaves whose labor helped build it. In addition, the committee says it identified roughly 30 members of the college’s governing corporation who owned or captained slave ships.
The report traces the university’s centuries-old link to slave traders, calling slavery a “crime against humanity” that left an ugly legacy of discrimination and a wide gulf between rich and poor. It describes how Brown’s endowment benefited from slave owners’ contributions and says the university is accepting responsibility for “its part in grievous crimes.”
Although the committee said Brown needs to help those disadvantaged by the legacy of the slave trade, it does not recommend creating scholarships specifically for black students. Although the report said the idea is logical, it would run counter to Brown’s current policy of offering scholarships based on need.
The report also makes no recommendation on whether or how Brown should make monetary reparations, which Simmons has maintained was never part of the committee’s responsibility.
(Posted on October 19, 2006)