Two descendants of slaves whose sale in 1838 benefited Georgetown now plan to attend the university in the fall as the first students to be enrolled under the university’s commitment to provide legacy admission status to descendants.
The admission of siblings Shepard and Elizabeth Thomas, first reported by The New York Times, is a landmark moment in the university’s effort to reconcile and apologize for its historical involvement in the institution of slavery. The sale of 272 slaves by Maryland Jesuits in 1838 protected the financially troubled university from collapse.
Shepard Thomas plans to study engineering in the College, and Elizabeth Thomas will study journalism in the School of Continuing Studies.
The development comes after a year of efforts by the university to address its slaveholding past.
The university formally dedicated Isaac Hawkins Hall and Anne Marie Becraft Hall on April 18. Its namesakes are the first slave listed in sale records and the founder of a school for black girls in Washington, D.C., respectively. The university also formally apologized for its role in slavery in a Mass titled “Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope” the same day, in one of the most active attempts by a U.S. university to reconcile its slaveholding past.
The two halls that constitute the Former Jesuit Residence were first renamed from Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall to Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall, respectively, after a series of student protests and a sit-in in University President John J. DeGioia’s suite of offices in November 2015.
Former University President Fr. Thomas Mulledy, S.J., authorized the sale to a Louisiana plantation, while former University President Fr. William McSherry, S.J., served as Mulledy’s lawyer during the sale.
DeGioia announced in September 2016 a series of efforts to reconcile Georgetown’s history with slavery, including providing legacy status to descendants of the 272 slaves, formally apologizing for the university’s role in slavery and renaming Mulledy and McSherry halls.
DeGioia convened the Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation in 2015, seeking recommendations on how to acknowledge and recognize the university’s past involvement in slavery.