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Reparations: Beneficiaries of the Slave Trade, Still

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Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

Merchants increased cargoes by laying enslaved people on their sides, chest to back, with little more than a couple of feet of vertical space" Stripped nude to make them easier to wash down and secure, shackled in pairs, and often branded for identification, these prisoners spent long periods in rat- and insect-infested bowels of ships, interrupted only by a regimen of feedings, airings, and exercises under threat of whips, blades, and guns.

Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities

Violence, writes Craig Steven Wilder, is an academic matter. Benjamin Franklin didn't "manumit" any of his servants. And yet, he certainly profited from his ownership of themas an educated man who organized the College of Philadelphiawhat is now the University of Pennsylvania.

Runaways infuriated Rev. Samuel Gray, the founding trustee of the College of William and Mary. Even if the runaway was a young child. No matter. The boy in question is murdered as punishment, but not before he's tortured, made to suffer the placement of "a hot iron" on his flesh, and afterward, when tied to a tree, an enslaved adult male is ordered to whip him. Not surprisingly, the child dies. Rev. Gray, however, lives on to become pastor at St. Peter's Church in New Kent.

Violence is routine on American campuses.

One September 18, 1755, a slaveholder is found dead. Murdered. "Phillis and Mark (Codman) were dragged on a sled through Cambridge to the commons just outside the gates of Harvard College." Enslaved blacks, so by now, residents of Cambridge know the routine. The two are hanged and then "burnt to death." Their torture drew a crowd of American citizens. For decades, Mark's body remained suspended, "in chains at the Charlestown commons."

Enslaved black labor toiled to build Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia. What stories those enslaved black people could have told about their owner, their overseers, and the building of that grand monument of higher education.

Through New England, enslaved blacks cleaned classrooms and student dorms, writes Wilder, including emptying chamber pots and clearing ashes from fireplaces. The enslaved prepared meals for the administration, faculty, and student body. They made repairs and crafted furnishings. Whatever needed to be done, enslaved blacks were present to do the bidding of the white elites, who, in turn, were learning how to be a civilized and educated class of leaders.

"The American campus stood as a silent monument to slavery." In other words, violence, the practice of torture and murder, made it possible to erect such lofty institutions of learning, turning out American leaders, thinkers and doers, for a new world in which progress demanded the systemic oppression of the black humanity for white soon-to-be Americans to prosper economically as well as socially.

After the violent remapping of the continent, the number of Indigenous people diminished as a result of extermination and removal pogroms. Africans then were now more prominent by the mid-eighteenth century thanks to the slave trade. "Nearly three hundred thousand black people constituted a fifth of the population in the British mainland colonies." Slavery was thriving in "the new college towns."

So that's how enslaved blacks came to campus, as property of the learned and in chains.

All the colleges engaged in the slave trade, required the unpaid labor of blacks and the abject submission to the will of white slaveholders who were often linked, one way or the other, to academia.

Some of the colleges and universities include, Dartmouth, Yale (slave-holding common among the faculty), College of Philadelphia, (University of Pennsylvania), and College of Rhode Island (Brown University).

Until the work of Craig Steven Wilder in Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities) , we've only been privy to what we've suspected about the connection between the history surrounding America's rising prosperity and it's narrative of white supremacy and the creation of some of the world's most prominent institutions of higher learning built on American soil, at the expense of black enslavementor, in other words, built as a result of the forced sacrifice of black liveslives that didn't matter one bit to white Americans.

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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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