Kelly Heyboer, nj.com, October 23, 2019
Princeton Theological Seminary pledged last week to use $27.6 million of its endowment to pay reparations for the school’s historic ties to slavery, believed to be the largest amount ever paid by a school to atone for benefiting from the slave trade.
The school’s black student association says it’s “a great start, but not enough.”
The Association of Black Seminarians at Princeton Theological Seminary — a student group that helped raise the slavery reparations issue at the school — plans to call for at least $120 million more in slavery reparations along with money for current African-American students and other changes, the association’s president said.
The group argues Princeton Theological’s own research concluded about 15% of the school’s current endowment is tied to profits made from investments and donors tied to slavery.
“True repentance would require the institution to give back at least what has been unjustly acquired. Fifteen percent of the endowment is $147 million,” the student group said.
The group called on Princeton Theological to provide restitution to African-American alumni and current students and invest in impoverished communities. The group also wants the seminary to come up with a plan change the names of buildings honoring slave owners or people who supported white supremacy.
The 360-student school, which is not part of neighboring Princeton University, was founded in 1812 to train Presbyterian ministers and is the second-oldest seminary in the country. A historical audit found the school never owned slaves and slave labor was not used to build its campus. However, the seminary took money from donors and invested in banks that profited from slavery.
Several of the school’s founding faculty and other leaders used slave labor and many were involved in the American Colonization Society, which advocated sending freed slaves to Liberia in Africa.
The reparations plan approved by the trustees includes:
-Funding 30 scholarships and five doctoral fellowships for descendants of slaves or students from other underrepresented groups.
-Hiring a new professor focused on African-American life along with a full-time director of a new Center for Black Church Studies.
-Naming the library after Theodore Sedgwick Wright, the school’s first African-American student and graduate.
-Naming the Center for Black Church Studies after Betsey Stockton, a missionary and educator who was once a slave owned by the chairman of the seminary’s board.
-Changing the seminary’s curriculum to reflect what the school learned about its ties to slavery.
Princeton Theological officials said they did not set out to come up with a single dollar figure that would make up for the school’s ties to slavery. Instead, the $27.6 million figure was arrived at after calculating how much the proposed scholarships and other programs would cost to support every year in perpetuity.
The seminary’s endowment topped $1 billion in fiscal year 2018, making it one of the largest college endowments in New Jersey, behind Princeton University and Rutgers University.
Both Rutgers and Princeton recently issued reports addressing their slavery ties and the reverberations of racism. Both schools made some changes, including new names for buildings at Rutgers and new portraits and monuments at Princeton. But neither school proposed paying reparations to the descendants of slaves.