Black leaders in Baltimore are praising Loyola University Maryland’s recent acknowledgement that the institution benefited from the slave trade, adding that the announcement is a step in the right direction to address repair and reconciliation.

This month, a 12-person task force at the university released a 27-page report looking into how the Jesuit university benefited from the sale of enslaved Black people in 1838. In April, the university will release “Untold Truths: Exposing Slavery and Its Legacies at Loyola,” a more detailed 334-page account. The task force took 18 months to investigate the issue before releasing the report.

“So far [the reaction] has been primarily positive both on the campus and beyond that,” said David Carey Jr., the Doehler Chair in History at Loyola. Carey was part of the task force formed in early 2022 to delve into Loyola’s connection to the slave economy.

Joshua Harris, vice president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, commended Loyola President Terrence M. Sawyer and the university for “doing the work to evaluate their past history,” he said.

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“We’d be hard-pressed to find any institution who hasn’t benefited from the slave trade,” he said. “In order to have any good-faith conversations about moving forward, we have to be able to have accountability and acknowledge what happened in the past. That’s the only way we can have repair.”

Del. Malcolm Ruff, who represents the 41st District that covers Northwest Baltimore, said he hopes the announcement is “just the start of a long-overdue wave of acknowledgements from institutions and corporations alike in Baltimore of the undeniable fact that this city was built on the backs of Black people.”

He added: “Baltimore is only a flourishing city today because enslaved Black people jump-started its industrial economy following the Revolutionary War. The detrimental consequences of slavery persist for Baltimore’s Black citizens to this very day.”

Loyola worked closely with Georgetown University because the archives of The Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus are housed there.

According to those archives, the Jesuits in 1838 sold more than 272 enslaved people — most of the men, women, and children owned by the province — to two Louisiana planters and slave traders.

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Slavery was a contentious topic among Maryland Jesuits.

Before 1838, the subject of slaveholding had generated debate for some time among the Maryland Jesuits.

“As early as 1813, the Corporation of Roman Catholic Clergymen and Provincial Consultors had considered whether or not to sell the enslaved people who labored on the six Jesuit plantations in Maryland, and they decided to authorize the sale of smaller groups of enslaved people,” according to the archives.

According to the newly released report, “the impact of slavery in Loyola’s early years extended beyond financing the institution.”

In fact, during the Civil War, at least 22 students, faculty or staff from Loyola joined the Confederacy, while 10 joined the Union forces.

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The report also looks at the long-lasting racist policies and practices that affected Loyola — from the university being connected to redlining when it moved from downtown to northern Baltimore in 1922, to restricting education on its campus to “white persons” until Loyola admitted its first Black undergraduate student, Charles Dorsey, in 1949.

Carey said he was disturbed to discover that while Dorsey attended Loyola, blackface performances took place on campus.

“I can’t imagine how difficult that would have been for Charles Dorsey,” Carey said of the dean’s list student. “He was thriving at a place despite all these challenges. He would not have felt welcome.”

The report also lists 10 recommendations, from working more effectively with the descendants of the 272 enslaved people sold in 1838 to better supporting existing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice-focused initiatives on campus.

One of the recommendations is to rename Jenkins Hall, now named after a Confederate soldier. Another is to strengthen Loyola’s partnerships in Baltimore that “redress legacies identified in this report,” including the Charm City Pell Promise Program, the York Road Initiative, and the Karson Institute for Race, Peace, and Social Justice.

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Rev. Robert Turner, the pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, commended Loyola University Maryland for being one of the first colleges in Maryland to make the acknowledgement, but he added that the institution’s initial findings and plans leave “a lot to be desired.”

Turner immediately questioned whether or not the descendants of the 1838 sale have been compensated for their participation on the task force, as well as for any time they provided when they were being interviewed.

Carey said task force members participated on a volunteer basis. He added that there have been attempts to pursue grants to pay the two descendants who were on the task force. As for paying people who were interviewed as part of the research, Carey explained that is not a standard practice.

Turner also wants efforts to directly benefit the descendants of the 1838 sale and Black Baltimoreans.

“Loyola did not enslave Baltimore. They enslaved Black people,” said Turner, who each month walks 40 miles from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about H.R. 40, a bill that would establish a commission to study reparations and consider a national apology for slavery.

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Ruff said that Loyola now has the “moral obligation” to repurpose its resources to invest in Baltimore’s Black communities.

“Without the inhumane free labor of our ancestors, this university might not even exist,” Ruff said, adding that he is confident Loyola will “make that investment through programming and direct giving that empowers Black communities and propels wealth-building for Black Baltimoreans.”

Carey said the concerns that have been raised are valid.

“It definitely does not go far enough,” Carey said of the report’s recommendations, which fall short of allocating overall compensation to the descendants of the 1838 sale — something that has been addressed at Georgetown University.

In 2019, The Reconciliation Fund, which was inspired by a student referendum, was launched at Georgetown University. The fund, which receives $27.20 from each student, awards $400,000 annually to community-based projects that have “direct impact on Descendant communities whose ancestors were once enslaved on the Maryland Jesuit plantations,” according to the university.

“We really are seeing this as an opportunity to open up the conversation beyond Loyola. Our hope is by changing the culture at Loyola, [it] could go a long way to making it a welcoming place for descendants and Black residents,” Carey said, adding that he planned to meet with faculty at Georgetown to further address how Catholic institutions “wrestle” with their past connections to the slave economy.

Many of the leaders expressed a desire to work with Loyola as the process moves forward.

“There’s a great opportunity to collaborate and assist in the work they are able to do and move forward in good faith. This shows that they are committed to changing the narrative and outcomes that we have seen in Baltimore and beyond,” Harris said.

Turner said he eventually wants to see Loyola award scholarships to descendants and even guarantee employment following graduation and help with home ownership.

“I’m willing to help them think through how it can work more equitably. We need to make sure that we emphasize the focus on helping the descendants,” he said.

Carey welcomes the additional input and looks forward to creating a more welcoming and inclusive campus.

“Now that we know this history and we are reckoning, how do we incorporate as many of these voices as possible?” he asked. “This is a central part of our history. How do we make sure that this is not only a welcoming place where we really engage openly and bring about more racial justice and opportunities?”

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years. 

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