A. Our Most Elite Institutions of Higher Education were Financed by the Slave Trade, Built with Slave Labor, and Flourished in the Slave Economy.


From 1746 to 1769, colleges in America went from the original three - Harvard, Yale and William & Mary - to include other elite institutions such as: Brown, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others. FN2 The enslavement of Blacks not only helped fund these new educational institutions, but also created a new elite class of merchants. FN3 These slaveholding merchants provided financial support to colonial churches, schools, libraries, missions, and universities. FN4 Specifically, the labor and profits made from slaves created both the physical institution and financed the individuals that attended the schools. Colleges at this time were ranked among the largest slaveholders in America. FN5 In the process, investments in slave ships became college endowments, slaveholders became college presidents, and slaveholding heirs became college students.

The first slave ship to sail out of British North America was built and sent from Harvard. FN6 Colleges received both slaves and land as gifts to help in the creation of these institutions. For example, President Increase Mather, Harvard class of 1656, used “his negro” - a gift from his son Cotton Mather, class of 1678 - to run errands for the college. FN7 Similarly, Reverend Wheelock, who helped establish Dartmouth College, owed much of his success to the slaves he acquired; and indeed, for a time, there were as many enslaved Black people at Dartmouth as there were students in the college. FN8 Yale also benefitted from the slave economy. In 1732, Yale acquired fifteen hundred acres from the Connecticut General Assembly and rented much of their newly acquired property to slaveholding tenants, FN9 allowing the university to increase its influence in real estate and solidify its ties to slavery. FN10 The College of Philadelphia (present day University of Pennsylvania) acquired its land from Governor Thomas Penn who donated his estate in Bucks County - an estate that had been worked on for decades by enslaved Africans. FN11

In addition to using the slave trade to build these colleges, slave merchants used their wealth to fund the education of young white boys at the very schools the slave trade and slave economy had helped to erect. For example, one of this nation's founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, was able to attend present day Columbia (formally known as King's College) because of money he received from slave traders. FN12 His tuition and fees were paid from the sale of barrels of rum, manufactured on slave plantations. FN13 Charitable gifts helped fund the education of poorer boys, like Hamilton, and announced the influence of American slave traders in the colonies. FN14 Furthermore, these elite families sent their sons to these schools to prepare them to manage their commercial holdings, and eventually the country: FN15 John Adams graduated from Harvard, James Madison from Princeton, and Thomas Jefferson from the College of William & Mary. FN16

This system of education bound the nation's intellectual culture to American slavery and the slave trade. FN17 Reverend John Witherspoon, the sixth president of the College of New Jersey (present day Princeton), and a slave owner, has been credited with establishing the College's elite Ivy League status. FN18 Reverend Witherspoon, and a succession of eight slave owners presided over the College of New Jersey during its first seventy-five years FN19 , establishing their own intellectual freedom upon human bondage. FN20

Reverend Witherspoon's emphasis on politics and religion, his wholehearted support to the national cause of liberty, and his role as lead member of the Continental Congress influenced several students to enter government service and exert influence over America. FN21 His protégés included President James Madison FN22, twenty United States senators, three justices of the Supreme Court, thirteen governors, twenty-three congressmen, and scores of ministers, college presidents, professors, and military officers, FN23 all of whom became prominent slave owners in America, and distinguished alumni. FN24


B. The Finest Scholars, Alumni, and Students from Our Most Elite Higher Education Institutions Conceived, Promoted and Defended the Theories and Systems that Justified Slavery, Jim Crow And the Narrative Of White Supremacy.


Slavery was “a regime of governance … sustained through the instantiation of its practices in rules of conduct.” FN25 In order to enforce slavery's rules of conduct, slave states enacted slave codes, encompassing three elements: first, they defined slave status; second, they regulated the slave form of real property; and, third, they delineated slaves' social behavior by providing legal forms for social control. FN26 At the heart of these codes was the belief, maintained by none other than Thomas Jefferson, that Blacks were inferior beings incapable of taking care of themselves. FN27 After the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction, as Black Codes replaced slave codes, craniologists, eugenicists, phrenologists, and Social Darwinists, at every educational level, buttressed the belief that Blacks were innately, intellectually, and culturally inferior to whites. FN28

Samuel Morton, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania - the leading craniologist of the early 1800s and originator of “American School” ethnography - used his study of human skulls to distinguish the intellectual ability of races: Europeans on top, and Africans and Australian Aboriginals on the bottom. FN29 To this day, the University of Pennsylvania continues to hold his skull collection. FN30 Thomas Jefferson, a graduate of William and Mary, believed, much like many founders of our nation's colleges, that “nature, not slavery, explained the intellectual inferiority of the Negro.” FN31 Well-to-do planters and merchants routinely turned to college presidents to find “suitable” scholars. FN32 For example, in 1773, Colonel Henry Lee, the grandfather of General Robert E. Lee, asked his son to help locate a tutor for the children of their family friend Robert Carter, of the Nomini Hall plantation. FN33

The influence of college graduates was so expansive that it reached beyond North America into slave-holding societies in the Caribbean and South America. Graduates took up positions among the slave-holding elite as plantation owners and politicians. Others became ministers or educators who upheld slavery through preaching and teaching. FN34 Moreover, farmers and scientists gave lectures and dissertations on the physical and mental inferiority of these various groups to international audiences willing to listen. FN35 After graduating in Harvard's first class, George Downing, Governor John Winthrop's nephew, spent months preaching to the English in Barbados, Antigua, Santa Cruz, Nevis, and St. Christopher, where he measured demand for New England commodities and gathered advice on establishing slavery in the Puritan colonies. FN36

In the years after the Civil War, some of the best-educated people in the nation began revising history to romanticize and sanitize their relationship to bondage. FN37 In a class with the Harvard anatomist John Collins Warren, Henry Watson, a Harvard trained educator, taught that Black people sat at the bottom of humanity in physical development, cultural accomplishment, and intellectual potential. FN38 In his lectures, Professor Warren revealed that the most advanced scientific research “confirmed the biological supremacy of the boys in that room,” a sentiment carried for generations upon matriculation. FN39


C. The Same White Supremacist Ideology that Built and Maintained Our Higher Education Institutions Simultaneously Denied Blacks Any Access to Education During Slavery and Equal Access to Education during Jim Crow.


For over two centuries, between 1636 and 1857, elite institutions built their endowment upon slave labor and educated generations of white leaders on the tenets of white supremacy while Blacks were prohibited, by law from being educated. Fearing that Black literacy would prove a threat to the slave system - which relied on slaves' dependence on masters - whites in many colonies instituted laws forbidding slaves to learn to read or write and made it a crime for others to teach them. FN40 An excerpt from the South Carolina Act of 1740 stated:

Whereas, the having slaves taught to write, or suffering them to be employed in writing, may be attended with great inconveniences; Be it enacted, that all and every person and persons whatsoever, who shall hereafter teach or cause any slave or slaves to be taught to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe, in any manner of writing whatsoever, hereafter taught to write, every such person or persons shall, for every such offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds, current money. FN41

Georgia enacted a similar law against slave education in 1770, and all Southern states followed suit by 1803. FN42

Because of this type of legislation, the education of slaves was done in a secret manner - often late at night when slave masters were asleep, or in hidden areas. Only the people who could be trusted were invited to attend “school” in any location “where Secresy [sic] could be secured.” FN43 Sometimes these schools were held in remote swamps and cane-breaks, where, perhaps, the foot of the white man had never trod. FN44 Because of the high level of policing that slave communities experienced, those individuals that did succeed in learning from others had to do so with great care. A Black woman who grew up in Savannah, Georgia stated that “My brother and I being the two eldest, we were sent to a friend of my grandmother, Mrs. Woodhouse, a widow, to learn to read and write …. We went every day about nine o'clock, with our books wrapped in paper to prevent the police or white persons from seeing them.” FN45 As a result of the stringent, restricted access to learning, not many slaves succeeded in being educated. A census in 1860 documented that only about 5% of the population was literate. FN46

During and after reconstruction, Black schools were severely underfunded. Many Southern states spent an annual average of $3.81 for each Black student enrolled in the public schools; whereas, spending for white students averaged $9.37 per year. FN47 One student, when asked why he was not writing on his slate, told a freedom school teacher that he had sold his pencil for a piece of bread. FN48 A ten-year-old girl in Charleston, South Carolina chose to give up meals so that her grandmother's limited funds could pay school fees. FN49 While many students made choices between their livelihood and their education, most during this period also risked their lives by attending school. With the newly instituted plantation schools came a bout of white hostility that impeded school attendance. In many locations, stoning was the preferred method of attack employed by angry white children who resented the idea of Black children attending school. FN50 Colonel Douglass Wilson, a former slave and Civil war veteran recalled school days for his children in New Orleans in 1866.

We sent our children to school in the morning … we had no idea that we should see them return home alive in the evening. Big white boys and half-grown men used to pelt them with stones and run them down with open knives, both to and from school. Sometimes they would come home bruised, stabbed, beaten half to death, and sometimes quite dead. FN51

Coupled with the threat of physical violence, the planting and harvest season proved to be another roadblock in education, halting schooling amici dwindling attendance as children were needed in sharecropping fields. FN52 For at least half of the 20th century, white school officials shortened the academic year to ensure that Black school children would work until the cotton harvest was complete. FN53 By 1910, less than 45% of rural Black Southerners under the age of ten were enrolled in schools, and more than 33% of those aged ten or older were illiterate. FN54 From 1914 to 1915, Southern Black children attended an average of thirty-five days of classes during the entire school year in order to help on the farms. FN55 The pressures for Black students to tend to sharecropping fields, again, balanced on the want for an education, and the need for survival. Subsequently by 1930, 15% of rural adult Blacks had no formal schooling, and 48% percent had never gone beyond the fifth grade. FN56


D. Today, the Overwhelmingly White Demographics of Our Most Elite Higher Education Institutions is Neither an Accident of History Nor the Results of Neutral Meritocracy but the Direct Legacy and Inevitable Consequence of White Supremacy, White Superiority, and White Privilege.


The overt racial discrimination of yesterday is now hidden deep within today's colorblind rhetoric. Colorblindness is an instrument of white privilege because it undermines the means of promoting racial equality. Ironically, the demographics for these elite institutions, many of which funnel into Supreme Court clerkship positions and top businesses, remain primarily white. The top three law schools - Harvard, Yale and Columbia - have a significant divide of Black and white students. In 2014, Harvard Law School's student body population was 52.3% white and 8.7% Black; FN57 Yale Law School's student body was 63% white and 6.9% Black; FN58 and, Columbia Law School's student body was 51.3% white and 6.5% Black. FN59

White privilege is the understanding that, “being born with white skin in America affords certain unearned privileges in life that people of another skin color … are not afforded.” FN60 With over two hundred years of universities denying Blacks the privilege of entering into these elite institutions, legacy clauses - that pull from families that have matriculated from these schools - affords the children of alumni privileges they may not have earned. Although many legacy admissions rates are self-reported, Harvard's legacy admissions rate in 2011 hovered around 30% FN61, while Yale admitted 20 to 25% of their legacy applicants. FN62 To juxtapose these numbers, 11.8% of the admitted students in 2011 at Harvard were Black. FN63