Black Experience

Woman, 63, Attends Georgetown University, Which Enslaved Her Ancestors

A 63-year-old descendant of slaves sold off to help settle debts incurred by Georgetown University has completed the first few months of her freshman year at the elite school in northwest D.C.

Mélisande Short-Colomb, who had been working in New Orleans as a chef, uprooted and enrolled at Georgetown to take advantage of the university’s offer of a special legacy admission status to her and all of the slaves’ descendants.

Short-Colomb learned of the school’s offer after being contacted by a genealogist tracing the descendants of slaves that Jesuits at Georgetown owned almost two centuries ago.

Short-Colomb, who goes by “Meli,” lives on campus in a tiny room with an adjoining bathroom. She walks to her three classes in jeans with a backpack slung across her shoulder.

“Physically, it’s been challenging,” she told CNN.

But Short-Colomb said she is driven by the importance of shedding light on the history behind the nation’s wealth and accomplishment “and how slavery was, and continues to be, a foundation in that accomplishment.”

Marcia Chatelain, an associate professor of history and African-American studies at Georgetown, added that she didn’t think the university could ever do enough to settle its “incredible” debt.

“But I do think that what Georgetown is doing is shifting in its thinking about its responsibility to the past, as well as thinking about its future differently,” she said.

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