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In an email sent to students, faculty and staff Tuesday, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow announced the university’s $100 million commitment to redress its ties to slavery through the creation of the “Legacy of Slavery Fund.” The New York Times reported the fund will work with descendants of Black and Native American people once enslaved at Harvard, as well as their broader communities.
“Slavery and its legacy have been a part of American life for more than 400 years,” Bacow wrote, according to a copy of the email obtained by Reuters. “The work of further redressing its persistent effects will require our sustained and ambitious efforts for years to come.”
Harvard banners hang outside Memorial Church on the university campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Sept. 4, 2009.
“Harvard benefited from and in some ways perpetuated practices that were profoundly immoral,” Bacow added. “Consequently, I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals, on Harvard, and on our society.”
His email linked to a 100-page report titled “Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery” from the university’s 14-member special committee chaired by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, a legal historian and constitutional law expert who is dean of Harvard’s interdisciplinary Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
The report, also shared online Tuesday by the university, says the purpose of the research is to provide a strong foundation for the next phase defined as “the process of reckoning and repair.”
The fund will serve as “a necessary predicate to and foundation for redress,” but does not call for direct financial reparations to descendants of enslaved people, the report says. Brown-Nagin told the Times she avoids using the term “reparations” because “fixating” on the word can be “counterproductive.”
The fund resembles moves made by other Ivy League and elite universities, such as Brown, Georgetown and Princeton, which have sought to redress their past complicity with the institution of slavery. In March 2021, the Jesuit conference of priests, a prominent Roman Catholic order, vowed to raise $100 million to benefit 272 descendants of the enslaved people it sold off in 1838 to pay off debts to Georgetown University and promote racial reconciliation initiatives in the United States.