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Columbia University: It’s Time For Our Institution To Come Clean On Ties To Slavery, Racism

Columbia University: It’s Time For Our Institution To Come Clean On Ties To Slavery, Racism

Columbia University

PHOTO: The library of Columbia University. Credit: peterspiro/ iStock, https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/peterspiro?mediatype=photography

Columbia University, a 268-year-old private New York City institution, plans to erect public markers to denote its ties to slavery and racism as well as commemorate Black students, according to a professor at the university.

The Ivy League university, which ranks No. 2 on the U.S. News Best National University Rankings, will place four historical markers near residence halls, with each one telling a piece of the school’s tarnished history, Reuters reported.

The residence halls include Furnald Hall, Hartley Hall, John Jay Hall and 50 Haven Avenue, which was renamed from Bard Hall in August 2020 due to its namesake, Samuel Bard’s ties to slavery.

Columbia University was founded in 1754 as King’s College on the grounds of Trinity Church in Manhattan. It’s the oldest institution of higher education in New York.

At John Jay and 50 Haven dorms, the markers will denote John Jay’s and Samuel Bard’s roles in slavery. Both men played significant roles at Columbia University.

Bard was a slave owner. He was a professor of medicine at Columbia and a founder of New York hospital in 1770 and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which later became Columbia’s medical school. 

Jay was an abolitionist. As a student at King’s College class of 1764, Jay called for the abolition of slavery and pushed for the university to become racially inclusive. As a lawyer, he opposed the expulsion of a student accused of being “colored” by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Jay was the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.


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At Furnald, the marker will tell the story of Frederick W. Wells – the first Black student to live on campus at the university. Wells was targeted in 1924 by the Ku Klux Klan, which burned a seven-foot cross near the dorm. He was also targeted with racist slurs by his dormmates.

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Hartley Halls’ marker will tell the story of Columbia’s Black students, including legendary Black poet Langston Hughes.

The markers are a part of a larger, university-wide initiative implemented by Columbia President Lee Bollinger after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

Columbia Professor Thai Jones helped lead the effort to erect the markers and taught a course called “Columbia & Slavery.”

Columbia has a $14.35 billion endowment as of June 30, 2021, and produced a return of 32.3 percent on the managed assets in its endowment portfolio for the fiscal year, according to the university’s website.

Some Twitter users commented on the negligible symbolic value of the markers.

“That’s not enough. How did money from slavery finance and build the school? Which slaveowners sent their kids there and did they bring their slaves?” @1783Amer1can tweeted.

“Kut da Check for their ancestors,” @BillJon63819267 wrote.

“LOL! Where’s the money at! They can keep those plaques!” @ADOS4EVR tweeted.

PHOTO: The library of Columbia University. Credit: peterspiro/ iStock, https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/peterspiro?mediatype=photography