Acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates recently called on Harvard and other academic institutions with ties to slavery to make monetary atonement for past wrongs.
Paris, France. September 14, 2015. Ta-Nehisi Coates is seen at Cercle Kadrance in Paris, on Monday, September 14, 2015 in Paris, France. (Antoine Doyen/AP Images for John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)
Coates, who famously made the case for reparations in The Atlantic magazine in 2014, was the keynote speaker at a daylong conference entitled “Universities and Slavery: Bound By History,” which was sponsored by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The conference featured historians and representatives from several other academic institutions.
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust led off the list of speakers by acknowledging the school’s own checkered past.
“Harvard was directly complicit in slavery from the college’s earliest days in the 17th century,” said Faust, according to The Harvard Crimson. “This history and its legacy have shaped our institution in ways we have yet to fully understand.
“Only by coming to terms with history,” she added, “can we free ourselves to create a more just world.”
Harvard is just one of several universities that have recently made efforts to investigate and acknowledge their ties to Black enslavement. Student-led research over the past 10 years has unearthed that two of Harvard’s presidents owned slaves on the campus and that the school had accepted donations and endowments from slave owners.
Some schools have offered formal apologies and other acts of restitution; Harvard removed the crest of a slave-owning family from its law school seal. But Coates and others say such acts need to be taken further.
“I think every one of these universities needs to give reparations,” Coates said, according to The New York Times. “I don’t know how you conduct research showing your very existence is rooted in a great crime, and then you just say, ‘Well, sorry’ and walk away.”