Study highlights slavery's history at Brown Univ.

by Amanda Cohen | 11/10/06 6:00am

After a recent study revealed the relationship between Brown University's founding and slavery, similar questions about Dartmouth's own ties to the institution have arisen.

According to the study conducted by the Brown University Committee on Slavery and Justice, slave labor was employed in building Brown's University Hall, and money from the slave trade funded much of the university's initial construction. The report recommended that Brown create a slavery memorial and focus on recruiting minority students.

"I think these types of projects are outstanding. They do much to remind us of the ongoing consequences of chattel slavery, and later Jim Crow -- some people believe the effects are simply historic, but we live with the results of constitutionally-endorsed slavery every day," said Ozzie Harris '81, director of the Office for Institutional Diversity and Equity. "It made some families rich, made many institutions ... and left millions disadvantaged. These advantaged families and businesses probably have ties to Dartmouth ... and, ironically, have provided us with the resources to build one of the best colleges in the United States."

At Dartmouth, no similar research has been made available, though some information is known about the College's relationship with slavery and slaveholders.

College founder Eleazar Wheelock owned slaves, according to history professor Jere Daniell '55. Nathan Lord, the College president during the Civil War, was also an advocate for slavery and often used the Bible to justify the institution. The College continued to admit black students throughout Lord's presidency, however, according to "The History of Dartmouth College" by Leon Richardson.

Caleb Watts, one of Dartmouth's first black students who studied at the College in the 1770s, was enslaved for most of his life, according to history professor Craig Wilder. After Watts completed his studies, Wheelock convinced Jonathan Trumbull, who was the governor of Connecticut at the time, to send Watts to the South to "dissuade the slaves from resurrection."

"If it is found that Dartmouth has ties to the slave trade, then more research needs to be done on the ways in which slavery continues to affect African Americans today and the ways that we, as privileged and educated individuals, can help," said Sheila Miller '08, a history major and African and African American studies minor.

Unlike Brown, the original funding for Dartmouth came from a trust fund in England to educate Native Americans, and not from the slave trade. Daniell said that in New England, slavery was abolished after the Revolutionary War in all states but New Hampshire. The institution, however, "faded away" and there were few slaves kept in the state outside of the Portsmouth area.

Miller noted University of Virginia and University of Mississippi as examples of other institutions who reflected upon their histories in racism to educate about the severity of the problem. According to Harris, Emory University's Transforming Community Project is intended to examine the racial history of the university and foster dialogue around the subject.

"I think it would be beneficial for all schools to research their history in an effort to help heal and rectify any previously unrecognized transgressions that may have been committed against certain groups of historically underrepresented peoples, including but not limited to groups based upon gender, ethnic, racial and sexual-identity lines," Alex Cook '09 said.

Dartmouth should research the College's history of oppression of other minority groups in addition to blacks, Cook said.