“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 : 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.
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 the first case, we highlighted the primary sources used by RAUC to establish the University of Chicago's ties to slavery. The adjacent case brought 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 exhibit was presented in conjunction with the (U)Chicago Reparations Summit, which took place on campus April 26, 2019. Learn more @TheRAUC on Twitter.
Nancy Spiegel, Bibliographer for Art and Cinema, Bibliographer for History
Anne K. Knafl, Bibliographer for Religion, Philosophy, and Jewish Studies
We inhabit, study, and work in the land of the Peoria, Miami, Kickapoo, and Potawatomi Nations. These lands were the home of these Native Nations prior to their forced removal and relocation. These lands continue to be embedded with the rich histories and struggles for survival of each nation. UChicago does not exist independently from centuries of forced labor and economic extraction from enslaved African Americans. In 1857, Stephen A. Douglas donated 10 acres of land (valued today at approximately $1.2 million) for the initial construction of the University of Chicago. Though most of history remembers Douglas for his political career, the humans that he owned and amassed his fortune from have a starkly different recollection.
Written by Symphony Fletcher (Pritzker School of Medicine M.D. Candidate 2024) for "UC Juneteenth 2021: Reparations Panel." Learn more about Land and Labor Acknowledgments.