Colleges that succeeded in the American Colonial period were reliant on slavery and the slave economy of the Atlantic world, Craig Steven Wilder said in a Feb. 25 campus lecture about his recently released book, Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. Wilder, a professor of American history at MIT, joined Princeton history professor Martha Sandweiss in a conversation as part of the Carl A. Fields Center’s Black Heritage Month.
The history of the elite colleges of the Northeast is inextricably linked with the slave economy, Wilder said. “We don’t expect to look at colleges and see slavery — and that’s precisely why looking at colleges and seeing slavery is valuable, because in fact we start to see just how central the African slave trade was to the Atlantic economy and to the rise and sustenance of the English Colonies in the Americas.”
The publishing of Wilder’s book, a labor of 11 years, comes at a time when American colleges are increasingly interested in addressing their own complicated entanglement with slavery. Sandweiss has taught a course called “Princeton in Slavery,” in which students conduct close examinations of texts to uncover Princeton’s relationship to the institution of slavery. Harvard, Yale, Brown, and the College of William & Mary, among others, have undertaken similar projects. Continue reading