An Update On Efforts Related to Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation

Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:

It’s a privilege to welcome all of you back for the start of our semester. Each year, we open our spring semester in reflection on the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and on his call for greater justice, equality, fairness, and dignity for all people in our nation and around the world. On Monday, members of our community will gather together at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for our annual “Let Freedom Ring!” Celebration in honor of Dr. King. Throughout the semester, we will have opportunities to come together to more deeply understand what his life and legacy mean for us today, fifty years after his assassination.  

In this moment of reflection, I write to share with you an update on our work on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, including an effort to build an ongoing partnership among the Descendant, Jesuit, and Georgetown communities.

Over the past few years, we have been deeply engaged in work to better understand our institution’s relationship to slavery and the responsibilities we have today to grapple with the legacy of slavery, racism, and discrimination in our nation.

We formally began our work on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation in the fall of 2015 with the launch of our Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, a group of faculty, staff, students, and alumni charged with guiding our effort to acknowledge Georgetown’s historical relationship to the institution of slavery, examine and interpret the history of certain sites on campus, and convene dialogue across our campus. In the fall of 2016, we shared the Working Group’s report and recommendations. Over the course of summer 2016, we began a process of engagement with the Descendant community, families whose ancestors were enslaved on Jesuit plantations in Maryland in the early nineteenth century.

As many of you will remember, in April 2017, we joined together with members of the Descendant and Jesuit communities for a Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope and the dedication of Isaac Hawkins Hall and Anne Marie Becraft Hall. We have also been honored to welcome members of the Descendant community as students and to learn of alumni, faculty, and staff who identify as members of the Descendant community.

You can read more about our efforts and about Georgetown’s history here.   

During this same period, we launched a related set of efforts to strengthen Georgetown’s commitment to racial justice with the creation of the Department of African American Studies, the hiring of new faculty, and a Working Group charged with laying the foundation for an Institute for the Study of Racial Justice. Planning for this Institute is now actively underway. You may read more about our Racial Justice commitments here as well as recent efforts here.

Now, as we begin 2018, we look forward to continuing our work. This year has a special resonance. In April, we will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King. In June, we will mark 180 years since the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved children, women, and men, and the journey that forced them south to Louisiana.

There are many efforts underway to advance our commitment to racial justice and our work to understand and respond to our history. These include our work to build a Center for the Study of Slavery and Its Legacies, the ongoing research of our Georgetown Slavery Archive, the efforts of our Library to support archival research, as well as the contributions of our new class of postdoctoral fellows who are pursuing research on the history of slavery.

An important initiative this year is the continuation of our dialogue with the Descendant community, which has occurred in many different places and forums since 2016. There are a number of initiatives and ideas that have been identified, both by the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation in its report and through our engagement with the Descendant community. These conversations have reinforced the importance of building a strong and lasting framework for dialogue, partnership, and collaboration among the Descendants, Georgetown, and the Jesuits. We are now seeking to engage the Descendant and Jesuit communities in reflection on proposed principles to guide our long-term work together. We will provide opportunities for our community to engage this effort in the time ahead. I invite you to learn more about this next step in our engagement with the Descendant community here.

While this work will unfold over many years, we continue in this effort with a sense of urgency and purpose, in accordance with the values of our University community and animated by our tradition as a Catholic and Jesuit institution. I look forward to working with our University community, the Descendant community, and the Society of Jesus as we continue this journey of memory and reconciliation.


John J. DeGioia