April 23, 2019 | 67° F

Author discusses U. connections to slavery at Rutgers talk

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Craig Wilder, an author and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke about the connections to slavery found in Rutgers’ history.

A committee at Rutgers is working to uncover and broaden the conversation of our University’s history and its ties to slavery and racism. Part of their effort includes hosting Craig Steven Wilder, an author and professor, to speak on the topic of “Rutgers and American Slavery."

Through the work of the “Committee of Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History,” the University hosted a lecture on April 6 by Wilder, author of "Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities" and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wilder’s lecture focused on Rutgers historical connection to slavery and racism, part of the aim to advance inclusion and re-examine Rutgers' Roots.

The lecture, sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor of Rutgers—New Brunswick, was free and open to the public at the Livingston Student Center. His talk was followed by a question and answer session.

Wilder spoke about many of America's respected colleges and universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Rutgers, and of their connection to both slaveholders and traders.

The slave economy triggered the development of these institutions, he said. Colleges and universities were ultimately funded by slavery and soon depended on it.

Many of Rutgers' founding fathers were either slave owners or came from slaveholding families, he said. 

Jacob Hardenbergh, one of Rutgers' earliest presidents, purchased slaves, despite the economically poor state of the college, Wilder said. The college was seeking funding in order to survive in the 18th century and wealthy slave traders were ideal targets for this.

“College officers saw slave traders and slave holders as governments,” he said. “They competed for the fees of young men from slave owning families and sent emissaries to the plantations in search of gifts and students.”

The University's first tutor, Frederick Frelinghuysen, and Henry Rutgers were also slave-owners.

Throughout the Rutgers—New Brunswick campus there are buildings named after these figures.

Slavery founded, shaped and helped America’s colleges survive. Even today, the effects of slavery impact American colleges.

The economy to this day is affected by the slaveholding patterns, Wilder said.

The institutions that were built on the economic success of slavery are continuing to benefit today.

It is important to acknowledge the history of universities, said Jomaira Salas, a member of the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History and a graduate student in the Graduate School—New Brunswick.

“In a time when colleges are talking about diversity and looking forward, it is important for them to look back and ‘right those wrongs,’” she said.

For the committee, she said it is important to learn from someone who studied the history of many universities.

Salas said that as a student interested in activism, it is important to understand the United States' history and to feel an ownership of the University.

The Rutgers experience is the experience of American higher education, Wilder said.

“The Rutgers story really tells us the centrality of slavery to the founding of the United States and the founding of institutions that we cherish,” he said. “And if we truly cherish those institutions, we have to be honest about them.”

Noa Halff is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. She is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum.

Noa Halff

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