James Wright, Washington Informer, October 29, 2009
In light of a recent publication that strongly indicates that slaves helped to built the University of Maryland, College Park, without any type of acknowledgement, some Black students have called for President C. Dan Mote, to issue a formal apology for the institution’s use of slave labor.
The university held a forum, “Release of a New Study on Slavery and UM Early History” Mon., Oct. 9 and remarks were made by Mote, noted historian Ira Berlin, the Rev. L. Jerome Fowler, a descendant of one of the Blacks who played a role in the early years of the university–Adam Plummer, university curator Elizabeth McAllister and Dottie Chicquelo, assistant director of the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Education and president of the Black faculty and staff organization.
The study, “Knowing Our History,” which was produced by an undergraduate class taught by Berlin and Herbert Brewer, a graduate student, delves into the origins of the University of Maryland, with passages that explore the origins of slavery in Europe and how it evolved into a lucrative, worldwide enterprise that reached into the Americas.
The University of Maryland was founded by wealthy plantation owner Charles Calvert as the Maryland Agriculture College in 1856. Classes began at the institution in 1859 and, with the norms of 19th century America, excluded women and Blacks. However, in the “Overview and Appreciation” section of the publication, released in August 2009, Berlin pointed out that the issue of slave labor was discussed during the building of the institution. This was particularly relevant because the school’s first president, Benjamin Hallowell, was opposed to slavery. He was told by Calvert and the board of trustees that slave labor would not be used in the construction of the university. Hallowell resigned one month into his term as president and while the publication does not say directly that it was tied to slavery, there is an inference of it.
“. . . although the evidence points elsewhere,” Berlin said. “Slavery was the elephant in the room, which everyone recognized but no one could acknowledge. Political necessities may have forced both Calvert and Hallowell to avoid the direct discussion of slavery, but slavery’s omnipresence–as a source of wealth, status and labor–made it clear that slaves were no silent partner in the establishment of the Maryland Agriculture College.”
In this context, Black students concerned about the issue have called for Mote to apologize for the use of slave labor in the building of the University of Maryland.