Mulledy Hall, a new student dormitory named for the president who authorized the sale of about 272 slaves to a Louisiana plantation owner in 1838, will be called Freedom Hall until a permanent name is chosen.
Thomas F. Mulledy, a Jesuit priest, organized the sale of slaves after stepping down as president of Georgetown, and reportedly “used the proceeds from the slave sale to pay off debt the university had incurred from new building.” Even back in 1838 the sale was controversial: “some Jesuits at the time believed the slaves should have been freed, and Mulledy ignored instructions from church officials to keep slave families together.”
This is definitely not someone who should have his name affixed to a building on an American university.
The other building, McSherry Hall, was named after William McSherry, who, as president “sold off some Jesuit-owned slaves before Mulledy’s larger sale and advised Mulledy in the 1838 sale,” according to David J. Collins, a Georgetown history professor and Jesuit priest.
This is a university acting responsibly, but, inevitably, the change didn’t happen without campus action by concerned students.
A reported 250 Georgetown students and other activists gathered to show solidarity with students protesting the failure of administrators at the University of Missouri and Yale University to take complaints about racism and racial incidents on their campuses seriously.
At the Georgetown demonstration, student leaders announced a sit-in outside DeGioia’s office Friday morning to protest the two building names. About 50 people sat outside DeGioia’s office at the peak of the sit-in Friday afternoon, doing homework on their laptops and eating pizza sent by supportive alumni, organizers said.
What’s more, Queen Adesuyi, an organizer of the protests—which, again, were successful, and achieved something irrefutably good—said their actions gained support from the “momentum” of student protests on campuses around the country.
In a post on the Facebook page for this week’s events, student organizer Queen Adesuyi (COL ‘16), wrote, “We will continue to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters on other campuses and we will continue to hold Georgetown accountable for the student life of Black students and other students of color on campus.”
Unlike the many internet alarmists decrying other campus actions, John DeGioia, Georgetown’s current president, along with a working group assigned to address the issue, listened to and carefully considered the concerns of students of color:
“[The Black Leadership Forum and other students’] words are shaped by a thoughtfulness, a passion, and a spirit of constructive engagement that we appreciate deeply and hope will sustain us through the course of this important and painful conversation about our history and its legacy,” the working group wrote in its resolution and recommendation to DeGioia. “We are especially moved by the concern for the naming of buildings and the identification of special sites on campus, such as burial plots.”
“As a University, we are a place where conversations are convened and dialogue is encouraged, even on topics that may be difficult. This is what we will continue to do at Georgetown,” DeGioia wrote. “We are supportive of our students and proud of the depth of their engagement in these urgent conversations. These issues require the very best of each of us and call us to continue to come together as a community to engage this important work.”
“Freedom Hall” and “Remembrance Hall” will serve as interim designations while the working group brainstorms permanent names. Students, buoyed by their success and empowered by the open-mindedness of their school’s administration, “say they also want the university to pay reparations by establishing an endowment that, accounting for inflation, would match what the university made from the slave sale. The money, they said, should provide scholarships or a professorship based on race issues.”
Right on, Georgetown.