We are excited to share news that yet another institution has decided to embark on a journey to come to terms with slavery and racism in its past. Today, Johns Hopkins University has joined Universities Studying Slavery (USS).
In a message on December 9, 2020, Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels, Dean of the Medical Faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine Paul Rothman, and the President of the Johns Hopkins Health System & EVP at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Kevin Sowers shared the discovery of government census records that state University founder and benefactor Johns Hopkins was the owner of enslaved people in 1840 and 1850, and perhaps earlier. They stated: “We are fully committed to continuing this research wherever it may lead and to illuminating a path that we hope will bring us closer to the truth, which is an indispensable foundation for all of our education, research and service activities.”
Launched in fall 2020, the Hard Histories at Hopkins Project examines the role that racism and discrimination have played at Johns Hopkins University. Blending research, teaching, public engagement and the creative arts, Hard Histories aims to engage the school’s broadest communities—at Johns Hopkins and in Baltimore—in a frank and informed exploration of how racism has been produced and permitted to persist as part of the school’s structure and practice.
The project expects insights into lesser-known chapters in the history of Johns Hopkins and anticipates many opportunities to study and discuss the implications of that past for the school’s present and future. Student researchers will help lead Hard Histories through research in a history lab, working through the archival record. The project’s partners will come from across the university and across the city of Baltimore.
The project is directed by Martha S. Jones, Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor, Professor of History and the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. She is a legal and cultural historian whose work examines how Black Americans have shaped the story of American democracy.
Read Professor Jones’ Washington Post article, “The founder of Johns Hopkins owned enslaved people. Our university must face a reckoning.”
Work is already underway, including a new web exhibit by the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries, Hopkins Retrospective, reexamining university founder and benefactor Johns Hopkins. The university expects that solutions will emerge out of new understandings and new relationships.
As part of the critical examination of its founder and the launching of the Hard Histories at Hopkins Project, Johns Hopkins University has also become the newest member of the Universities Studying Slavery (USS) consortium. They look forward to collaborating with and learning from other member institutions. We here at USS headquarters know that the seventy schools participating also look forward to having Johns Hopkins share their process with us.
See also the Washington Post, “Johns Hopkins, Benefactor of Namesake Hospital and University Was an Enslaver.”