Georgetown University Dug Up Human Remains Likely From Slave Graveyard While Building Dorm, Kept Quiet For Years

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Evie Fordham Politics and Health Care Reporter
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A construction crew building a residence hall at Georgetown University dug up a human femur in December 2014 that may have come from a slave, and the college kept the discovery quiet.

Arrupe Hall was built adjacent to a segregated Catholic graveyard that included the burial sites of slaves and free blacks dating back to the early 1800s, reported Georgetown’s student newspaper The Hoya on Wednesday. The construction crew knew “that the discovery of human remains would be a possibility” because only 50 out of 900 bodies were moved from the former cemetery during the construction of another building in 1953, according to The Hoya.

The femur found during construction belonged to a male of “indeterminate ancestry” who was between the ages of 35 and 49, according to archaeological firm AECOM.

“Georgetown disclosed the discovery to the D.C. Historic Preservation Office and D.C.’s Archaeologist confirmed that Georgetown followed the appropriate procedure,” Georgetown spokesperson Matt Hill told The Daily Caller News Foundation via email.

The news comes as Georgetown has faced backlash for how it has addressed “its slaveholding past.” A Jesuit society affiliated with Georgetown sold 272 slaves to the state of Louisiana to save the college from financial ruin in 1838. (RELATED: Liberal Professor Michael Eric Dyson Calls Out White NFL Players Over Anthem Protests, Tells Them To Get In The Game)

The university apologized for benefiting from the sale of the slaves, referred to collectively as the GU272, in April 2017. Georgetown also established a policy of “preferential admissions treatment” for GU272 descendants and renamed buildings to honor people of color who played roles in Georgetown’s history, reported The Hoya. Georgetown admitted two students who are descendants of those slaves in 2017.

The $46 million building has housed students since fall 2016. Students living there were largely unaware of its past even though Georgetown created a Working Group on Slavery, Memory And Reconciliation in 2015. The group recommended Georgetown “mark sites on our campus associated with the history of slavery with informative plaques” in other cases.

The group was not informed of the discovery of human remains during Arrupe Hall’s construction before they convened, and it is unclear whether members of the group were ever informed of the discovery.

“As we continue memorialization efforts at Georgetown, we will be engaging members of the Descendant community to ensure their voices and perspectives are incorporated in any future plans,” Hill told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Honoring the memory of the ancestors with a memorial on the Georgetown campus is a key step in this ongoing process.”

Editor’s Note: This post was updated to reflect Arrupe Hall was built near the cemetery and Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus sold slaves, not Georgetown. 

Follow Evie on Twitter @eviefordham.

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