Princeton investigates its connection to slavery at a two-day symposiumBreaking News
tags: slavery, Princeton
After former University president Samuel Finley passed away in 1766, the slaves he had owned were sold in an auction outside of what is now the Maclean House, underneath the American sycamore trees that are nicknamed “liberty trees.” The names and fates of these slaves are still unknown, but their stories — intrinsically tied to those of the University’s — are being assessed and analyzed for the first time in the University’s history as part of the Princeton and Slavery Project.
The project is the result of years of research led by history professor Martha Sandweiss and involving multiple graduate student seminars and first-year seminars. The research findings from these courses were published on a website this November, along with videos, interactive maps, and primary source documents.
To mark the project’s completion, the University hosted an academic symposium from Nov. 17–18, involving academic lectures, artistic exploration in plays and sculptures, panels, and a keynote address by Nobel Laureate and Professor Emerita Toni Morrison.
After Friday’s keynote address, a panel of student contributors to the Princeton and Slavery Project joined college presidents and other leaders in the movement to investigate University ties to slavery, in order to share their research findings and experiences.
According to the panel, in the mid-1800s University students largely hailed from the South. Joseph Yannielli, postdoctoral associate at the Gilder Lehrman Center of Yale University, reported that the University’s Class of 1851 was 63 percent Southern. In particular, Trip Henningson ’17 noted that Mississippians made up a significant proportion of the University’s student body by the mid-1800s.
“Slavery became part of the DNA of Princeton,” said Yannielli. “Princeton became renowned as a safe space for slaveholders.”
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