“A Case for Reparations at the University of Chicago”: Sources

“The origin narrative of the University of Chicago does not begin with John D. Rockefeller in 1890. It does not even begin in the city of Chicago. It actually begins on a 3,000-acre cotton plantation in Lawrence County, Mississippi. Hundreds of enslaved African American men, women, and children lived and died on that plantation to make the University of Chicago, and its $7 billion endowment, possible. The University of Chicago refuses to acknowledge this part of its heritage.”

(Caine Jordan, Guy Emerson Mount, and Kai Perry Parker. “‘A Disgrace to all slave-holders’: The University of Chicago’s Founding Ties to Slavery and the Path to Reparations.” The Journal of African American History 103, no.1-2 [2018]: 163-178)

In 2017, members of the Reparations at UChicago Working Group (RAUC) published “A Case for Reparations at the University of Chicago,” in Black Perspectives, the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society. RAUC argued that there are inextricable ties between UChicago and the Old University of Chicago, which was founded in 1856 on land donated by Stephen A. Douglas, owner of a slave plantation in Mississippi.

Stone from Douglas Hall in Old University of Chicago as part of current University building

This stone from Douglas Hall at the Old University of Chicago, named after the University’s benefactor Stephen A. Douglas, is part of the Classics building in the Hyde Park campus of the University of Chicago

University of Chicago Library bookplate

Old University of Chicago Library bookplate alongside gift recognition bookplate from the current University of Chicago Library

This exhibit presents original manuscripts, publications, and legal documents that trace the connections and continuities between the Old University of Chicago and the new University, founded in 1890.  In this first case, we highlight the primary sources used by RAUC to establish the University of Chicago’s ties to slavery. The adjacent case brings together materials documenting the interconnectedness of the two institutions with evidence drawn from early university and seminary catalogs, and books with rarely-seen bookplates and inscriptions from Regenstein Library’s circulating collection.

This two-case exhibit is presented in conjunction with the (U)Chicago Reparations Summit taking place on campus April 26, 2019. Learn more @TheRAUC on Twitter. Visitors without a UChicago ID can enter to see the exhibit by obtaining a day pass from the ID and Privileges Office in Regenstein Library during its hours.