Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery

The presidential initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, announced by Harvard President Larry Bacow in November of 2019 and anchored at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, is an effort to understand and address the enduring legacy of slavery within our University community. It is guided by a Presidential Committee, chaired by Radcliffe Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin, who is also the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School and a professor of history in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. For more information and updates on this initiative, visit Radcliffe's Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery website.

Examining the History and Legacy of Slavery at Harvard

In the course of the past decade, Harvard University has begun to more fully examine the history and legacy of slavery at Harvard. In April 2016, President Faust and Congressman John Lewis unveiled a plaque on Wadsworth House honoring four women and men — Bilhah, Venus, Titus, and Juba — who lived and worked there as enslaved persons in the 18th century. At the time, President Faust said, “The past never dies or disappears. It continues to shape us in ways we should not try to erase or ignore. In more fully acknowledging our history, Harvard must do its part to undermine the legacies of race and slavery that continue to divide our nation.” In 2017, a memorial was erected at Harvard Law School to honor “the enslaved whose labor created wealth that made possible the founding of the Harvard Law School,” and urges in response that the School “pursue the highest ideals of law and justice in their memory.”

In 2007 and 2011, undergraduate research seminars led by Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of History, began a deeper investigation into many aspects of Harvard’s ties to slavery. Since then, the University has sponsored several other efforts to acknowledge the legacy of slavery at Harvard. In 2016, then-President Drew Gilpin Faust appointed a faculty committee to advise the University in its pursuit of scholarship and research on Harvard’s history with slavery. The University hosted a national academic conference at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on March 3, 2017, which explored the relationships between slavery and universities, across the country and around the world. An exhibition at the Harvard University Archives accompanied this conference. Harvard joined other higher education institutions as a member of the Universities Studying Slavery collaboration in 2019.