Harvard acknowledges slavery ties, sets up $100m reparations fund

Harvard University in the United States has released a report on its historic ties to slavery and pledged $100m to address the educational, social and economic legacies of slavery and racism.

Released on Tuesday, the report by a team of Harvard faculty found that slavery was an integral part of life at Harvard between the university’s founding in 1636 and when slavery was outlawed in the US state of Massachusetts in 1783.

Harvard faculty and leaders enslaved more than 70 Black and Indigenous people during that timeframe, it said.

Moreover, Harvard maintained significant financial ties to donors who profited from slave trading and plantations in the American South and the Caribbean well into the 1800s, according to the report, which lays out recommendations.Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said in an email that a committee would explore transforming those recommendations into action and that a university governing board had authorised $100m for implementation, with some of the funds held in an endowment.

“Harvard benefited from and in some ways perpetuated practices that were profoundly immoral,” Bacow wrote in a university-wide email.

“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.”

The move by Harvard comes amid a wider conversation in US higher education about redressing the effects of slavery, discrimination, and racism – and growing calls for the country to provide reparations to the descendants of enslaved people.

Other US universities have grappled with the issue, as well, and some have created funds in recent years to address the legacies of slavery.

A law enacted in Virginia last year requires five public state universities to create scholarships for descendants of people enslaved by the institutions.

While Harvard had notable figures among abolitionists and in the US civil rights movement, the report found “the nation’s oldest institution of higher education … helped to perpetuate the era’s racial oppression and exploitation.”

It also documented Harvard’s exclusion of Black students during the period of segregation in the US and its prevention of scholars advocating an end to racism.

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