Georgetown was funded by the sale of slaves. Staff photo.
Georgetown was funded by the sale of slaves. Staff photo.

     What if you lived in a dorm named for a man who was revered and respected, except for one detail – he arranged the sale of slaves?

     This was the predicament for Georgetown University students. And it is the reason that on Nov. 14, the Washington, D.C., school’s president announced that two buildings once known as Mulledy Hall and McSherry Hall had been renamed Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall.
     But this is more than the story of how one university came to grips with its history. For towns and cities grappling with what to do about that large statue of the Confederate general in front of the courthouse, Georgetown has offered a road map. Here’s how it happened:     

     First, the history: Mulledy Hall had been named for the Rev. Thomas F. Mulledy, credited with laying the foundation for Georgetown to become a top-tier school, but also arranging the “mass sale of Maryland Jesuit slaves” around 1838, according to the book, “Jesuit Slaveholding in Maryland, 1717-1838, by Thomas Murphy (Routledge; 2001).
    Mulledy had a troublesome reputation, according to the Rev. Anthony Kuzniewski, in Our American Champions: The First American Generation of American Jesuit Leaders after the Restoration of the Society, available online. Many of the Europeans in the Maryland Province found him lax, failing to enforce sacred silence, tolerating overindulgence in alcohol, evening visits without companions, and the reception of guests of both sexes in Jesuit rooms.”
    Mulledy was president of the college from 1829 to 1838 and 1845 to 1848.
    The other priest involved in the slave controversy, the Rev. William McSherry, was president from 1838 to 1839, according to the school's library. He had also been named first provincial of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. 

     The sale: In his article, Kuzniewski writes that Mulledy and McSherry "teamed up to force the issue on divesting the province of its slaves" in 1835. They wrote to their superior asking for permission and received it, but were instructed "to protect the Catholic identity and practice of the slaves, including the sanctity of their marital and family bonds."
     In June 1838 Mulledy sold “272 slaves from the four estates in southern Maryland for $115,000. In some cases, to forestall local Jesuits from hiding the slaves, Mulledy arrived unannounced with the sheriff and the buyer,” Kuzniewski writes.  In addition, families were separated, despite the fact that the priests had been instructed not to do this.
    From the proceeds Mulledy gave $8,000 to the archbishop of Baltimore as settlement for a dispute over income from Jesuit properties, and $17,000 went to Georgetown to reduce institutional indebtedness, while the remaining $90,000 was used for an endowment, according to Kuzniewski. 

     On campus: Mulledy Hall, once Jesuit housing, is now a residential living community. McSherry Hall houses the John Main Center for Meditation and is the oldest building on campus.

     Coming to grips with history:  Georgetown's history was well-known. During the past year, a columnist for the school’s newspaper, The Hoya, has written about it. And in August, the school’s president, John J. DeGioia, wrote a letter to the Georgetown community acknowledging the issue. He said he would appoint a working group of students, faculty, alumni, staff and administrators to study the matter.

    Context: The recent deaths of young African-American men and boys at the hands of police has made headlines. But a dialogue on racial sensitivity has widened, encompassing not just the police but also matters of racial sensitivity and harassment in the town square and on college campuses. Earlier this month, the president and chancellor of the University of Missouri stepped down as the administration struggled to address concerns of African-American students.  [See the story.]
    The situation at Georgetown, meanwhile, culminated when students conducted a sit-in Nov. 13 outside the school president's office, punctuated by announcements via Twitter.          
    In another letter to the Georgetown community, DeGioia wrote on Nov. 14, “The issue of how to address certain sites on our campus and their ties to slavery has been of particular significance to our community. Friday morning, I met with a group of students who gathered in the President’s Office. The students shared with me their opinions on the importance of changing the name of two buildings.”
   DeGioia also met with the working group assigned to study the issue and said he accepted their recommendation to remove the names.

    New names: The Georgetown working group assigned to examine the history of the Mulledy sale delivered a letter acknowledging that there is still more to learn. “We cannot, as of yet, even determine with certainty the number of slaves sold by Father Mulledy or the larger number who contributed for decades to the growth of the school.”
    While Freedom Hall and Remembrance Hall are interim names, the group recommended that the Mulledy Building should be renamed “specifically with reference to the enslaved persons who were sold at Father Mulledy’s direction in 1838.”




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