Tulips in front of John Carroll statue and Healy Hall
Category: University News

Title: Georgetown Preserves Memory, Charts Path for Lasting Change at Emancipation Day Conference on Legacies of Enslavement

“We live, every day, with the legacies of enslavement — from health disparities, police violence and mass incarceration, to monuments in our physical landscape and the materials in our archives.”

– President John J. DeGioia

Commemorating Emancipation Day

The conference was held in conjunction with Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia, which marks the April 16, 1862, signing of the DC Compensated Emancipation Act, which ended slavery in Washington, DC.

“It is paramount that in addition to examining the roots of enslavement, that we interrogate our current context – the identities of those who lead, teach, learn and provide services of food and cleaning,” said Adanna J. Johnson, associate vice president for student equity and inclusion.

Annemarie Cuccia (SFS’22), chair of GU Students for DC Statehood, moderated a session on DC statehood that highlighted both the impact of continued denial of democracy for DC residents and the progress toward full representation. Andrew Davenport (G’23), a doctoral candidate studying U.S. history and research assistant with the Georgetown Slavery Archive, introduced the panel, which connected the rights recognized on Emancipation Day with the ongoing struggle for full citizenship still being fought by DC residents today.

“Emancipation Day reminds us that a different world – a better world – is possible. You and I are charged with studying our past, analyzing our present and imagining a future free from the legacies of slavery that plague us today,” said Davenport. “The good work will not stop here. It must proceed.”

Descendants Truth & Reconciliation Foundation

Georgetown is engaged in a long-term and ongoing process to more deeply understand and respond to the university’s role in the injustice of slavery and the legacies of enslavement and segregation in our nation.

With the ongoing support and active participation of Georgetown, the Jesuits and Descendants of the 272 enslaved individuals sold in 1838 by the Maryland Province of Jesuits established a new charitable foundation focused on racial healing and educational advancement.

In addition to the work to support the foundation, Georgetown also has committed to contributing $400,000 a year – based on the amount proposed by a student referendum in 2019 – for a new reconciliation fund to support community projects to benefit the Descendant community.

A large mosaic image of Mélisande Short-Colomb, comprised of personal and historical images from her show "Here I Am"

Memory and Reconciliation

Through engagement with the members of the Descendant community, collaborative projects and new initiatives and learning and research, the university continues to pursue a path of memorialization and reconciliation.

In association with the conference, the Laboratory for Global Performance & Politics and the Theater & Performance Studies Program premiered Here I Am, a virtual performance exploring Mélisande Short-Colomb’s homage to her ancestors and her personal journey through narrative, music and imagery. Short-Colomb is descended from Abraham Mahoney and Mary Ellen Queen, both among the enslaved children, women and men sold by the Maryland Province of Jesuits in 1838.

In addition to sharing work from the Georgetown Slavery Archive – and central to the theme of the conference and goals of the university library’s ongoing slavery, memory and reconciliation work – Georgetown invited other USS members to participate in a collaborative project with Georgetown, Michigan State University and the University of Virginia.

On These Grounds will create a common, shared method for collecting, organizing and describing historical data from the rich archival holdings of participating institutions,” says Harriette Hemmasi, dean of the library. “Project results will enhance research and understanding of the lives and experiences of the enslaved in our individual institutional contexts, and also promote reconciliation and repair with communities who are descendants of the enslaved.”

The 2021 Universities Studying Slavery Conference took place virtually April 15-16.