In 1838, two priests who served as president of Georgetown University orchestrated the sale of 272 people to pay off debts at the school.
The slaves were sent from Maryland to plantations in Louisiana, a revelation which became public last year and prompted school officials to announce that they would now give descendants of those slaves “the same consideration we give members of the Georgetown community” when they apply.
The connection between Georgetown and Louisiana further meshed this week after a stunning find at the Ellender Memorial Library at Nichols State University in Thibodaux and reported in the New York Times under the eye-popping headline, “A glimpse of the life of a slave sold to save Georgetown.”
The library revealed images of Frank Campbell, whose photos have survived, offering the first look at one of the 272 slaves sold to help keep Georgetown afloat.
These rare, century-old photographs of Campbell help illustrate the story of those enslaved men, women and children. The photos had been stored in the archives of the library, not far from where Campbell was enslaved.
“It’s an amazing piece of history and that headline, well it really says it all,” said Joseph Laughlin, a District-based activist and historian. “We knew by their own admission, that Georgetown was at the forefront of the slave trade and that they couldn’t survive without black slaves. This is further proof.”
Campbell, an enslaved teenager on a Jesuit plantation in Maryland on the night that the stars fell in November 1833, would hold tight to that memory for decades, even as an old man living hundreds of miles away from his birthplace, the New York Times reported.
In 1838, slave owners shipped Campbell to a sugar plantation in Louisiana with dozens of other slaves from Maryland, sold by the nation’s most prominent Jesuit priests to raise money to help save the Jesuit college, now known as Georgetown University.
Campbell would survive slavery and the Civil War. He would live to see freedom and the dawning of the 20th century. Like many of his contemporaries from Maryland, he would marry and have children and grandchildren.
But in one respect, he was singular: His image has survived, and the Ellender Memorial Library has it.
While a black eye to Georgetown to be sure, the university has pledged cooperation and a form of restitution.
Georgetown President John DeGioia said last year that the university will implement the new admissions preferences.
“Georgetown will need to identify and reach out to descendants of slaves and recruit them to the university,” he said.
DeGioia’s comments preceded a university committee’s report that also called on its leaders to offer a formal apology for the Georgetown’s participation in the slave trade.
“I believe the most appropriate ways for us to redress the participation of our predecessors in the institution of slavery is to address the manifestations of the legacy of slavery in our time,” DeGioia said.
The newly released photos of Campbell paints a vivid picture for many.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Laughlin said. “This one, is worth more and I just hope Georgetown and the many others who built and maintained their precious institutions on the backs of slaves like Frank Campbell, will consider not just real restitution, but consider what they can do going forward to show that when they say they’re sorry, everyone will know that they mean it.”