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In 1838, Thomas Mulledy, a Catholic priest and eventual two-term president of Georgetown University, sold 272 slaves. Jesuits at the school and in Maryland had owned the slaves across six plantations. The sale was intended to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in debt that the U.S. Jesuit mission had accumulated. But Mulledy, according to Catholic intellectual Thomas Merton, applied $17,000 of the money towards $30,000 in Georgetown’s construction debt, “incurred through building projects Mulledy himself had undertaken as President of that institution.” The slaves were sold to former Louisiana governor Henry Johnson for $115,000.
Almost two centuries later, a building on Georgetown’s campus continues to bear the president’s name: Mulledy Hall. And as students across the country take up the issue of racial discrimination on campus, activists at the school are rallying to have the building’s name changed. The Georgetown Voice reports that G-towners last night announced a sit-in outside President John DeGioia’s office that was scheduled to begin today at 9 a.m. and last through 5 p.m., or until the administration announces a change.
The sit-in isn’t the first time university students have demanded name changes to buildings that recall slave owners: At Yale University, for example, students have long expressed concern that the Calhoun residential college, named after alum and slavery-apologist John C. Calhoun, offends African Americans. Still, some Hoyas are calling for more than just a name change: “the implementation of an annual program to mark slavery’s legacy [at the school], revision of campus tours to include information about the roles of black people in Georgetown’s history, mandatory training for professors on identity and diversity,” according to the Voice. “We’ve been dialoging enough,” one student said at a solidarity rally last night.
On social media, Georgetown students and alumi voiced support for the name-change:
— Kay-Anne Reed (@ennayak) November 13, 2015
The name change for Mulledy Hall seems like a no-brainer. Seems like it should’ve been made a long time ago. Why not make it now? #GU272
— Graham Cornwell (@ghcornwell) November 13, 2015
— Erin Matson (@erintothemax) November 13, 2015
— Gina Bull (@Gina_Bull) November 13, 2015
City Desk has reached out to the university’s press office for comment and will update this post when we hear back.
Update 3:45 p.m.: A spokesperson for Georgetown provided the following statement from DeGioia:
“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 have done, and what we will continue to do at Georgetown. We are supportive of our students and proud of the ways they have engaged race, identity, diversity and equity here at Georgetown and in our nation. These are issues that require the very best of each of us, and we bring our very best to this work. We look forward to continuing our work together with our community.”
The spokesperson added that the university in September convened a working group of students, faculty, and alumni “to investigate Georgetown’s history with slavery and consider how to remember it, especially through the naming of buildings, such as Mulledy Hall.” The group’s work remains in progress.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery