ROMAGUERA PHOTOGRAPHY, METAIRIE, LA and ELIZABETH THOMAS Shepard and Elizabeth Thomas, descendants of slaves sold to benefit Georgetown, plan to attend the university in the fall.
Shepard and Elizabeth Thomas, descendants of slaves sold to benefit Georgetown, plan to attend the university in the fall.

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.

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  1. Mike Flynn says:

    Having descendants of slaves attend Georgetown is proper and commendable. In the grand scheme of history it is a small gesture to the past. It doesn’t erase what happened but at least it is some good coming out of evil. I hope Shepard and Elizabeth take advantage of this opportunity paid by ancestors many years gone by. The only advice I can give as an old man is study hard, make friends who have integrity, and enjoy every day you are on campus because it goes by in a heartbeat!

  2. Pingback: Two Descendants Of Georgetown University Slaves Admitted To School — College and University

  3. As expected, the admissions preferences are just the beginning of their demands. According to another interview, now they’re also asking for money, and not in the most graceful way:

    “Being admitted into the school is amazing and awesome,” Thomas says. “However, I’m going to have to go into debt to go to this school.” She wonders, “Is that really fair? I’m definitely looking forward to having conversations with them to push them to do more.”

    When it comes to fellow students who may believe that the descendants are not owed anything by Georgetown, Thomas says she’s not worried about them.

    “Look, I’m here. You may not be here if it wasn’t for my ancestors, so if anything you should be giving me a thank you,” she says. “What’s the difference between me being there because I’m a descendant [of a slave sold by the college] and you being there because your parents paid for it?”

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