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Here are Five Key Findings From Harvard’s Long-Awaited Report on its Ties to Slavery

Massachusetts Hall is home to the Harvard University president's office.
Massachusetts Hall is home to the Harvard University president's office. By Julian J. Giordano
By Ella L. Jones and Monique I. Vobecky, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard University released a landmark report on Tuesday that detailed the school’s extensive ties to slavery.

The 130-page report, which comes two years after University President Lawrence S. Bacow launched the Presidential Committee on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery, documented how the University was shaped and supported by the institution of slavery.

Here are five key takeaways from the long-awaited report.

Enslaved People Worked and Lived on Harvard’s Campus for More than 150 Years

The report found that slavery existed directly on Harvard’s campus.

“Over nearly 150 years, from the University’s founding in 1636 until the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found slavery unlawful, Harvard presidents and other leaders, as well as its faculty and staff, enslaved more than 70 individuals, some of whom labored on campus,” the report reads.

Enslaved people lived and worked at the school, feeding and caring for generations of students and faculty, the report said.

At Least 41 Prominent Harvard Affiliates Enslaved People

Harvard faculty, staff, and donors enslaved over 70 individuals, according to the report. At least five Harvard presidents — Benjamin Wadsworth, Nathaniel Eaton, Increase Mather, Joseph Willard, and Edward Holyoke — owned slaves.

Dozens of prominent donors and University leaders also enslaved people, the report found, including at least 10 members of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.

At least three people who enslaved individuals on Harvard’s campus served as stewards at the school — a prestigious position in the early years of Harvard College “that commanded respect and status,” according to the report. Between the University’s founding in 1636 through the beginning of the American Revolution, only 10 men held the position — five of whom were from the same family.

The work done by people enslaved by Harvard stewards “maintained the Harvard campus and sustained Harvard students,” the report said.

Andrew Bordman II, who served as a steward for more than 40 years “stands out for having enslaved at least eight individuals,” according to the report.

Here is a full list of Harvard affiliates who were identified as enslavers:

Harvard Benefited from ‘Extensive’ Financial Ties to Slavery

Harvard had “extensive financial ties” to human bondage via benefactors who amassed wealth from slavery. During the first half of the 19th century, the report found, more than one-third of the money donated or pledged to the University by private individuals “came from just five men who made their fortunes from slavery and slave-produced commodities.”

“Harvard’s donors in this period—and their wealth—were vital to the University’s growth,” the report said. “They allowed the University to hire faculty, support students, develop its infrastructure, and, ultimately, begin to establish itself as a national institution.”

Harvard also amassed wealth through investments in industries that depended upon the labor of enslaved people.

“For roughly a century, Harvard had operated as a lender and derived a substantial portion of its income from investments that included loans to Caribbean sugar planters, rum distillers, and plantation suppliers,” the report said. “After 1830, the University shifted its investments into cotton manufacturing, before diversifying its portfolio to include real estate and railroad stocks—all industries that were, in this era, dependent on the labor of enslaved people and the expropriation of land.”

Prominent Harvard Professors and Leaders Promoted Racist Theories

Harvard leaders and scholars also provided intellectual justifications for racism through debunked “race science” and eugenics.

Prominent Harvard professors including Louis Agassiz, John Collins Warren, and Jeffries Wyman all aimed to provide evidence supporting “race science.”

“From the mid-19th century well into the 20th, Harvard presidents and several prominent professors, including Louis Agassiz, promoted ‘race science’ and eugenics and conducted abusive ‘research,’ including the photographing of enslaved and subjugated human beings,” the report said. “These theories and practices were rooted in racial hierarchies of the sort marshalled by proponents of slavery and would produce devastating consequences in the 19th and 20th centuries. Records and artifacts documenting many of these activities remain among the University’s collections.”

Agassiz, whose name can be found across Harvard’s campus and the greater Cambridge area, was one of the country’s leading proponents of “race science.”

Academic work at Harvard “provided an intellectual framework to justify the exclusion and marginalization of Blacks that would endure into the 20th century,” the report said.

Enslavers are Honored Across Campus Today

Donors who profited off of slavery and slave owners themselves are honored across Harvard’s campus today with plaques, statues, and buildings.

Two of Harvard’s 12 undergraduate houses — Winthrop and Mather — are named after slave owners. Winthrop House is named after Governor John Winthrop and his direct descendent, Harvard professor John Winthrop, Class of 1732, who enslaved several people during his time at the University. Former Harvard President Increase Mather, Class of 1656, who enslaved at least one person, is the namesake of Mather House.

Mather House — one of Harvard College's 12 undergraduate houses — is named after former Harvard President Increase Mather, Class of 1656, who enslaved at least one person.
Mather House — one of Harvard College's 12 undergraduate houses — is named after former Harvard President Increase Mather, Class of 1656, who enslaved at least one person. By Angela Dela Cruz

Eliot House is named after Charles W. Eliot, the longest-ever serving president of Harvard, who “promoted eugenics and endorsed racial segregation,” the report said. Lowell House is named after former Harvard President Abbott L. Lowell, who sought to exclude Black and Jewish people from Harvard.

“Lowell’s perspective on questions of race — rooted in racial hierarchy and eugenics — shaped campus life,” the report said.

Several other buildings on campus — including Wigglesworth Hall, Stoughton Hall, Leverett House, and the Dudley Co-Op — are named after relatives of slave owners.

Many other notable donors and school officials who enslaved people and profited off of slavery are also comemorated across campus.

“Still today, early Harvard benefactors who accumulated their wealth through slavery are memorialized throughout campus in statues, buildings, student houses, and endowed professorships—and indeed in other educational, civic, and cultural organizations across Massachusetts,” the report said.

—Staff writer Ella L. Jones can be reached at ella.jones@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ejones8100.

—Staff writer Monique I. Vobecky can be reached at monique.vobecky@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @moniquevobecky.

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Tags
HistoryHarvard CorporationLegacy of Slavery