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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

St. Joe’s holds panel presentation to discuss Jesuit slaveholding

By Sam Henry, ’19 & Charley Rekstis, ’20

On Tuesday, Oct. 18, Saint Joseph’s University held a panel presentation titled “Living with the Sins of the Past: Perspectives on Jesuit Slaveholding.”

The panelists, who were hosted in the Cardinal John P. Foley Campus Center, discussed the history of Jesuit slaveholding, and included perspectives from Sister Cora Billings of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, Randall Miller, Ph.D., associate  professor of History, and Tia Pratt, Ph.D., visiting instructor of Sociology.

Miller explained that in the 1830s, The Society of Jesus owned over 12,000 acres of land, six plantations, and 600 slaves.

“Jesuits were not good managers of the plantations. The slave dwellings were almost universally unfit for humans to live in,” Miller said.

He explained that by the late 1830s, in light of the growing abolitionist movement, the Jesuits decided that they no longer wished to hold slaves.

In 1838, 272 slaves were sold by the Maryland Province Jesuits.

Billings, whose great-grandfather was a slave for the Jesuits in Georgetown, explained why she remains a member of the Catholic Church despite knowing about their connection to slavery.

“I remain because for me, you can not change the system,” Billings said. “Often times, we do not see the church as a system. The only way we can change things is from the inside. I remain because I can stay on the inside and affect change.”

Pratt added to this topic of change, discussing the actions that the University needs to take in order to remedy the sins of the past.

“We need to do more than have a panel discussion on a Tuesday,” Pratt said. “It is not enough for this institution to pat itself on the back, and say, ‘Look, we had a panel.’”

Following the panelists’ opening remarks, there was an opportunity for students, as well as other members in the audience, to ask questions. Some of the questions regarded reparations, others questioned the plan to create a more diverse school, and still others wondered how to further explore the problem.

Cyrilla Dillon, a woman who attended the event and who is involved with a group focused on whites against racism, made a comment about white communities’ understanding of slavery.

“You can’t be in right relationships with people who you’ve enslaved and from their enslavement, we have benefitted as whites; we have benefitted from the experience that whites have had,” Dillon said.

Martha Harding, a community member who was in attendance, heard about the panel presentation  through the Office of Black Catholics. Harding thought that while the panel was a good way to begin the discussion of Jesuit slaveholding, there is more that can be done.

“I would like to see an increase in black students,” Harding said.

The panelists also agreed that an intentional effort from the university needs to be made to amend the actions of the Jesuit slaveholders.

“An institution puts its money behind what it values,” Pratt said.

Look for more details about this panel in the Oct. 26 issue of The Hawk.

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