The sale of slaves saved Georgetown University: will descendants be repaid?

In 1838, Georgetown benefited from one of the largest slave sales in American history. The university has apologized and renamed buildings, but students are asking that additional action be taken.
7:36 | 09/18/20

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Transcript for The sale of slaves saved Georgetown University: will descendants be repaid?
I'm in Marion, Louisiana. We're at the grave sight of William Harris, the son of Samuel and Betsy. They were among the people sold by the society of Jesus for the benefit of Georgetown university. Without the sale, Georgetown university would not exist today. A lot of times we want to believe that this was so long ago. But the country has never addressed slavery. It's an institution that produces people that wield power. They conducted one of the largest mass slave sales, not just in jesuit history but in American history. When I first found out that my ancestors were enslaved by Georgetown I definitely felt hey, there should be some justice that comes out of this, we know who the culprits are. We know that's Georgetown university. Georgetown may say they're doing a lot of things for the descendants, but they aren't providing scholarships, they are not helping people find out if they're descendants or not. I consider that to be part of their birthright. I helped co-found the group that is intending on finding equity. I felt the university wasn't going to do this work if we didn't. We introduced reparations seeking to attach a $27.20 activity fee onto tuition. We intended on raising $400,000 a year and use it for needed medical help, internet access or wanted a better opportunity to reach higher learning. We as a community are embodies jesuit values greater than that of the catholic church or founders of Georgetown university. Our fee was about a fourth of these other fees. Probably less. The referendum was passed by over 66% of the student populationna April of 2019. And so for the very first time under shep's leadership, the student body of an American university went on record as saying that they felt that they, personally, owed a debt to the families of the people who made their university possible. Georgetown had the final approval of it, the board. The board did not approve it, but what they did say was that they would make it voluntary. By making it voluntary, was changing it from payment on a debt that is owed to a charitable endeavor. That takes away the whole point. Reparations are not charity. Reparations are payment on a debt that is owed. And Georgetown university and the society of Jesus do not want to acknowledge this debt. Referendum was not approved, but the money that the fee would generate is being given to this cause. For a major university like Georgetown with the endowment of a billion dollars plus, what does $400,000 mean? Right, it's not a lot of money, and we want to commit to that $400,000 and exceed it. So this $400,000 was money that Georgetown raised. Yes. There seems some irony in that. It seems in some ways the university is still benefitting off the backs of slaves. It is. And every institution that was built during that time continues to benefit, too. I'm talking specifically in this case about the $400,000, right. The university was build on the backs of slaves. This commitment to the student referendum financial commitment is a part of larger work. It is not the sole amount that Georgetown has committed and plans to commit to this work. It has been deeply guided by our desire to be connected with the descendant community. It is part of the W.K. Kellogg foundations. Truth, racial justice and transformation program. And they invited Georgetown to be a part of this conversation with the jesuits and the desdendant community. How big a priority is this issue of Georgetown's history with slavery and reparations? I think it is a profoundly significant one. A great deal of university resources, time, energy has been put forth I exploring our history and conceiving of how we move forward. Then why is it that ABC news reached out to the university weeks ago in the optics of no, you can't talk to our president, but we will present to you a woman of color, a senior member of the team at Georgetown to speak in our behalf. I think that I was asked to engage in this conversation because president dejoia wasn't in the room in those conversations led by the Kellogg foundation. I was present there. St. Thomas manor is the jesuits residence. It is also a plantation. I know my people were here once. Right now I'm feeling emotions but I can't really articulate them fully. To see all this and to know this I'm happy that I know it, but it's also hurtful to know. There are some things you don't want to think about. The only way that we can overcome our past is to confront and acknowledge what happened, and then we have to fight to make it right. My ancestors could have seen the trees. It's history that they always hold that I will be yearning to know, yearning to fight for it. If the trees had eyes. You're not welcome here! Get out of my face!

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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