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Last week, Georgetown University made amends with the descendants of 272 slaves it sold in 1838 to relieve the school of a debt. The leader of Jesuit order that founded the institution spoke with over 100 descendants and offered an apology that was months in the making.

Back in September, the school made its first official step in addressing its role in the slave trade. The slaves were owned by the Maryland Jesuits. They were sold by two priests and former presidents of the school, the Rev. Thomas Mulledy and the Rev. William McSherry for a price of $115,000, equal to over $3 million in our time. Many of the slaves were sold to a Louisiana businessman while others were reportedly sold to a widow of a slave trader.

Rev. Tim Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, led the April 18 ceremony, a day after the Emancipation Day holiday celebration in Washington and two days after Easter Sunday. Descendants who felt rebuffed when Georgetown University first announced plans to make the formal apology were given room to speak.

“Penance is very important,” said Sandra Green Thomas, president of the GU272 Descendants Association. “Penance is required when you have violated God’s law.”

As part of the university’s apology process, descendants will enjoy the same admissions preference as school staff, alumni and faculty enjoy. There was also the rededication of two halls, taking down the names of the priests and presidents that sold the slaves. Thomas F. Mulledy Hall was renamed to Isaac Hawkins Hall after the 65-year-old man and first slave sold by the Jesuits.

The William McSherry building was renamed after Anne Marie Becraft, a pioneering Black educator that founded a school for Black girls in the Georgetown region in the 1820s and later became a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the oldest group of nuns started by women of African descent. Miss Becraft’s building is also the oldest building on the Washington campus.

Georgetown University created an African-American studies department last summer, and in March, the school hosted two dozen American and Canadian universities in an open examination of slavery and how it impacted their respective institutions.

PHOTO: Georgetown University

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Little Known Black History Fact: Georgetown’s Slavery History  was originally published on