Columbia University To Acknowledge Historic Ties To Slave Trade With Campus Markers

The Ivy League school is just one of many universities that benefited from the slave economy.

Inspired by social justice protests over the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, Columbia University announced plans Tuesday (April 19) to acknowledge its legacy of slavery and racism by placing historical markers at four residence halls on campus, Reuters reports.

Columbia is the latest large university to erect plaques that recognize the institution’s historic links to slavery or financial supporters who profited from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in human cargo.

Columbia’s markers, slated for installation in the fall, include digital signs at residence halls John Jay Hall and the former Bard Hall (renamed 50 Haven Avenue in 2020). The signs will note that Jay and Samuel Bard were slave owners with close ties to the university.

Another marker at Furnald Hall recalls a racist 1924 incident that targeted law student Frederick W. Wells. The 24-year-old Tennessean was the first Black student to live in Columbia’s on-campus housing during the academic year. Men wearing KKK robes and hoods burned a cross near the dorm, as students shouted racist slurs outside Wells’ room.

A fourth marker is planned for Hartly Hall, which housed a high percentage of Black students in the early 20th century, including Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes.

The Ivy League university joins Harvard Law School, the University of Mississippi and Rutgers University, among others, to highlight its racist past.

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In February 2021, Rutgers announced plans to place four additional historical markers that tell the story of the institution’s early benefactors whose wealth included profits from the slave economy, including the university’s first president, Jacob Rusten Hardenbergh, and William Livingston, New Jersey’s first governor.

“These markers are an invitation for us to talk about the complicated legacies of namesakes and the complicated ways in which blood money from slavery is woven into old institutions like Rutgers,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said.

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