Brown University Confronts Its Past Ties to Slavery

In 2003, Brown University president Ruth J. Simmons, the great-granddaughter of slaves, formed a commission to examine the university’s ties to slavery and to make recommendations on what steps the university should take to make amends for any involvement that it had with the institution. The 16-member Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice recently issued its report. The document reveals extensive ties to slavery in the university’s past including the fact that the university’s first president had a personal slave, the university’s oldest building was built in part by slave labor, and the Brown brothers for whom the university was named were involved in the Atlantic slave trade.

The committee states that the university benefited to a large degree from its association with the institution of slavery. But the university stops short of issuing an apology for its past. Instead, several measures were proposed to make amends:

President Simmons stated that she will take some time and gather a wide range of opinion on the committee’s recommendations and at the appropriate time will issue the university’s official response.