Sir Ronald Sanders, the Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United states, has called upon Harvard University to pay reparations to Antiguans.
Roughly two centuries ago, a man named Isaac Royall, Jr. left land in his will for Harvard to endow a professorship of law, physics, or anatomy. Harvard chose to use this endowment to create a professorship of law which eventually became the foundation for Harvard’s law school.
The Harvard Crimson reports that the “The Royalls were a prominent slave-owning family in the small Caribbean country in the early 18th century” and that Royall, Jr.’s wealth “derived from the Massachusetts farms and a sugar plantation in Antigua he had inherited from his father—properties that relied on and profited from slave labor.
Ambassador Sanders sent a letter to Harvard’s university president last week claiming that some Antiguans are descendants of slaves owned by the Royall family.
Sanders, backed by the government of Antigua and Barbuda, believes that although Harvard did not directly own any slaves, they should extend benefits to Antiguans because the school profited from the “blood money” of the Royall family’s Antiguan slaves.
Sanders also urges Harvard to “demonstrate its remorse and its debt to those unnamed slaves from Antigua and Barbuda.” He compares his proposals to Georgetown University’s recent decision to compensate for its own slave-owning past by offering admissions preference to the descendants of slaves it sold in the 1830s.
“If Georgetown could do that, we thought that Harvard University ought to emulate them and do the same thing,” Sanders stated in an interview.
Sanders also proposes that the Harvard Law School could offer annual scholarships to Antiguan students as one form of reparations. He says that because locating the direct decedents of the Royall family slaves would be difficult, Harvard should instead extend scholarships to any Antiguan student.
The Crimson reports that Harvard administration has yet to respond Sanders letter, but spokesperson David J. Cameron says the university is working on a response.
In the past, Harvard’s president, Drew G. Faust, has commented on the school’s history with slaves.
“I am not aware of any slaves that were owned by Harvard itself, and slavery was much less of a presence and an economic force in New England than it was in Washington, D.C., and the South,” says Faust. “Mostly slave records were kept as economic records, business records, and the records we have of slaves at Harvard are much scarcer and less complete.”
At the end of the 2015 fiscal year, Harvard’s endowment– almost 38 billion – was named the largest endowment of all U.S. colleges. The university’s endowment absolutely dwarfs Antigua’s GDP, which came in at 2.097 billion at the end of 2015.