Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities
Craig Steven Wilder
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A 2006 report commissioned by Brown University revealed that institution's complex and contested involvement in slavery―setting off a controversy that leapt from the ivory tower to make headlines across the country. But Brown's troubling past was far from unique. In Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder, a leading historian of race in America, lays bare uncomfortable truths about race, slavery, and the American academy.
Many of America's revered colleges and universities―from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to Rutgers, Williams College, and the University of North Carolina―were soaked in the sweat, the tears, and sometimes the blood of people of color. The earliest academies proclaimed their mission to Christianize the "savages" of North America and played a key role in white conquest. Later, the slave economy and higher education grew up together, each nurturing the other. Slavery funded colleges, built campuses, and paid the wages of professors. Enslaved Americans waited on faculty and students; academic leaders aggressively courted the support of slave owners and slave traders. Significantly, as Wilder shows, our leading universities were dependent on human bondage and became breeding grounds for the racist ideas that sustained it.
Ebony and Ivy is a powerful and propulsive study and the first of its kind, revealing a history of oppression behind the institutions usually considered the cradle of liberal politics.
concerned. Students and faculty often rejected the ACS despite its influence and its appeals to social order. At Western Reserve College in Ohio, President Charles B. Storrs and Professor Elizur Wright Jr. led a series of debates on slavery that concluded with a decision to affiliate the campus with the New England Anti-Slavery Society. Western Reserve’s faculty explained that they “now feel, and feel very deeply too, that they had been blinded by a strange prejudice, which had the effect of
32–49; J. David Hoeveler, Creating the American Mind: Intellect and Politics in Colonial Colleges (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), 155–62; Bronner, William Penn’s “Holy Experiment,” 59–65; Marianne S. Wokeck, Trade in Strangers: The Beginnings of Mass Migration to North America (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 59–112; “Account of Servants Bound & Assigned Before James Hamilton, Mayor, 1745,” Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Aaron Spencer Fogleman,
(Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1998), 42–103. 21. The residents of the village of Amherst in western Massachusetts named their town for the victorious general and sought to attract funding from the Williams’ estate for a college. The move reflected Amherst’s popularity among the colonists, but it was also a strategic step to counter anticipated objections from Harvard to another college in the commonwealth. General Amherst declined the town’s petition for a college and instead sent
president predicted that the money that Nathaniel Whitaker and Samson Occom raised in Britain would be “greatly prostituted.” Two years later Ezra Stiles confirmed Manning’s doubts: “Dr. Wheelock[’]s Indian College … has already almost lost sight of its original Design.” The task of finding Native students became less attractive as tensions between England and the colonies extinguished British funding. The same shifting fortunes soon led the trustees of William and Mary to close their Indian
that college professors and officers occupied the public sphere as an interested class. They exercised expertise over the pressing social question of who belonged in the new nation. “I am not accustomed to speak in public, except on subjects connected with my own profession,” Calvin Stowe, a professor of biblical studies and the husband of Harriet Beecher Stowe, confessed at the beginning of a lecture on what to do with the nation’s black population.3 The greatest domestic questions of the