Students have launched the Tombstone Restoration Initiative to raise $1,200 in the next two months to restore the identifiable tombstones of members of the 272 slaves whom Georgetown sold in 1838.
Ayodele Aruleba (COL ’17) and Milan Chang (COL ’17) launched the project in conjunction with the Georgetown Memory Project, which helps to identify living descendants of the 272 slaves.
The funds are devoted to restoring the grave of Lucy Merrick, one of the 272 slaves sold in 1838, which has been damaged and neglected. Merrick was sold at age 10 and lived until 1903, but has no direct descendants to help with the upkeep.
Any money raised beyond the stated goal of $1,200 will be used to help restore gravestones of other slaves besides Lucy Merrick. The gravestones set to be restored are located at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church Graveyard in Maringouin, L.a .
Students are selling wristbands provided by the Georgetown Memory Project for $2.72 each starting yesterday.
Aruleba, a member of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, said buying a wristband to pay for the tombstone restorations is a way for students to contribute to the reconciliation of the university’s history with slavery.
“One of the things I recognized was how students came to me, a member of the working group, and said, ‘How can I get involved? I` read the report and it was moving, but as a student, what can we do now?’” Aruleba said. “This is part of the answer.”
Aruleba said he anticipates the approximately 500 wristbands required to reach the fundraising goal will be sold quickly with help from faculty and students.
“We expect it to take about a month and a half, but with the help of faculty and staff and campus outreach, we think it could take a lot shorter,” Aruleba said. “We’re already getting a lot of people excited about it and putting it into club newsletters.”
Richard Cellini (COL ’84, LAW ’87), founder of the Georgetown Memory Project, said the idea for the Tombstone Initiative came from his discussions with descendants of the 272 slaves, many of whom live in Maringouin.
“Of the 1100 people who live in Maringouin today, about 900 are descendants of the Georgetown slaves,” Cellini said. “It’s a whole town, the whole town is basically direct descendants of Georgetown slaves.”
Cellini said student engagement is key to the effort’s success.
“Any member of the Georgetown alumni could write a check for $1,200, but that’s not the goal here,” Cellini said. “The goal is to raise it in small amounts and with a large number of participants.”
Chang, who originally reached out to the Georgetown Memory Project to see if students could help raise money, said that coordination with the Georgetown Memory Project was a student run effort.
“The university is not involved; part of the significance of this initiative is its student-led nature,” Chang wrote in an e-mail to The Hoya. “By working from the ground up, this project is meant to demonstrate the student body’s support of and dedication to an issue that is deeply personal to this community.”
According to Chang, buying a wristband helps shows understanding of the role slavery played in Georgetown’s success.
“Student engagement and community support show that Georgetown students recognize the university’s role in history, and strive to build upon this history in a constructive and meaningful manner,” Chang wrote. “This effort goes beyond a university statement.”