SigEp Blog

A Brief Commentary on Georgetown’s History with the American Slave Trade

It is almost impossible to judge the events of yesterday by the morals of today. This becomes increasingly difficult the more centuries one peers back into history. It is only through studying our faults and learning from our mistakes as humans that we can progress, as a people.

Reflection is a vital aspect of the creed of the Jesuits and as students attending a Jesuit university, it is essential that each student takes this process seriously. This is particularly pertinent to the recent events and information surrounding the history of Georgetown and its construction involving slaves and the slave trade.

It is no secret that the United States has a past teeming with racial tensions and slavery. However, Georgetown has taken a massive step in unveiling some of the actions of former university leaders in an effort to increase transparency and stimulate dialogue among students and intellectuals alike.

In 1838, Jesuit university officials sold 272 slaves into the vociferous, southern slave trade in order to continue financing the university. By bringing these events to light, President John D. DeGioia has received massive amounts of scrutiny. His decision to unveil this history is courageous. Is something that shall pave the way for dealing with racial tensions in the future. It is vital to remember that each student, faculty, and alumnus would not have benefitted from the university had it not been for the 272 brave souls who underwent horrible torture, treatment, and barbaric living conditions. This we must never forget.

In an act of atonement DeGioia has allocated funds and an institute for the study of the descendants, renaming the buildings associated with the descendants, and favorable treatment of the 272.

John Locke, a famous English philosopher, once said that “education begins the gentleman but it is reading, good company, and reflection that must finish him”. Young men and women seeking to become well-rounded individuals for others would do well to follow this stoic worldview. As members of Sigma Phi Epsilon, we thoroughly believe and support the equal treatment of all races, genders, and creeds. The principles and virtues by which we live-virtue, diligence, and brotherly love-have stood the test of time and have guided brothers through troublesome ethical dilemmas for more than a century. They serve as an unwavering moral compass to fall back upon and provide steady ethical judgement during even the most arduous ethical dilemmas. When these ideals are ubiquitous in the actions of each brother and each of these philosophies are taken seriously after extensive reflection, it is possible to reconcile the immoral actions of yesterday with the moral solutions of today.


-written by James Callaway (College ’19)

The link to the aforementioned study can be found here:

Facts compiled from two separate news sources:
Brown, Dorothy A. “Georgetown’s Apology for Slave Trade Doesn’t Go Far Enough.” CNN 5 Sept. 2016: n. pag. Print.
The New York Times Editorial Board. “Georgetown and The Sin of Slavery.” The New York Times 23 Apr. 2016: n. pag. Print.