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Johns Hopkins University reckons with history, reveals founder owned multiple slaves

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Johns Hopkins University reckons with history, reveals founder owned multiple slaves 1

Johns Hopkins University heralded its founder’s abolitionism for nearly a century, but a reexamination of the school’s history recently revealed that Johns Hopkins actually owned several slaves. 

“The fact that Mr. Hopkins had, at any time in his life, a direct connection to slavery — a crime against humanity that tragically persisted in the state of Maryland until 1864 — is a difficult revelation for us, as we know it will be for our community, at home and abroad and most especially our Black faculty, students, staff and alumni,” Johns Hopkins University leaders wrote in a letter to the school community Wednesday. 

The revelations came to light as part of the Hopkins Retrospective, a project that began seven years ago to explore the school’s origins and history. 

The findings contradict a narrative that was a large part of the school’s history. 

“For most of the last century, our institutions believed Johns Hopkins to be an early and staunch abolitionist whose father, a committed Quaker, had freed the family’s enslaved people in 1807,” schools leaders wrote in Wednesday’s letter. 

“But over the past several months, research being done as a part of the Hopkins Retrospective has caused us to question this narrative. We now have government census records that state Mr. Hopkins was the owner of one enslaved person listed in his household in 1840 and four enslaved people listed in 1850.”

Johns Hopkins launched the school, America’s first research university, in 1876. It created the hospital in 1889. School leaders noted that Hopkins “specifically directed that the hospital extend its care to include the indigent of Baltimore regardless of sex, age, or race.”

“The revelations change our understanding of our founder’s life. They do not change the nature of what these institutions represent,” JHU President Ronald J. Daniels said in a video released Wednesday. 

“At their best, the University and hospital are enriched by the values and aspirations laid out in our founder’s will.”

Johns Hopkins University’s reckoning comes as other schools also come to terms with disreputable parts of their history. 

Earlier this week, the Virginia Military Institute began to move a statue of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson from its campus to a museum.

Last month, St. Mary’s College of Maryland unveiled the Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland, a project that remembers the slaves who once lived on the campus. 

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