Georgetown Sold 272 Slaves In 1838. What Can Be Done For Their Descendants, Today?

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Healy Hall at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and a statue of Georgetown's founder, John Carroll. (ehpien/Flickr)
Healy Hall at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and a statue of Georgetown's founder, John Carroll. (ehpien/Flickr)

In 1838, Georgetown University sold an astonishing number of human beings: 272 enslaved African-Americans. They were loaded onto ships and sent to sugar plantations in Louisiana.

Georgetown had long benefited from slave labor — this sale was used to avoid bankruptcy.

But the university's Jesuit fathers, perhaps aware of the moral bankruptcy they displayed by selling so many men, women and children, put conditions on the sale. Families would not be separated, the money would not go to pay off debts, the slaves would be allowed to continue to practice their Catholic faith.

Every promise was broken. That is the beginning of a powerful story that's come to light thanks to the efforts of Georgetown students and a group of alumni and some of the living descendants of those 272 people.


Richard Cellini, CEO at Cambridge-based technology company, Briefcase Analytics and founder of the Georgetown Memory Project.

Patricia Bayonne-Johnson, president of the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society and descendant of one of the 272 slaves sold by Georgetown in 1838.


The New York Times: 272 Slaves Were Sold To Save Georgetown. What Does It Owe Their Descendants?

  • "The human cargo was loaded on ships at a bustling wharf in the nation’s capital, destined for the plantations of the Deep South. Some slaves pleaded for rosaries as they were rounded up, praying for deliverance."

The New York Times: Georgetown And The Sin Of Slavery

  • "The reparations movement, which calls for compensating the descendants of generations of enslaved Americans going back 250 years, has failed to gain traction in this country for a variety of reasons."

The Guardian: Georgetown Traded In Slaves? Of Course It Did. That Was America

  • "The sale of 272 black Americans to bail out Georgetown University is only shocking if you’ve forgotten our economy was built on the exchange of people."

This segment aired on May 2, 2016.


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