The Ivy Coach Daily
December 11, 2020
The Namesake of Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University, one of our nation’s preeminent research institutions, is used to publishing all sorts of groundbreaking research — particularly in the medical field. But it’s also a university that admits when it’s done wrong. Johns Hopkins, after all, is where Henrietta Lacks’ cancer cells were cultured, forever changing the course of medical history. Yet Ms. Lacks was an unwitting participant. As JHU writes on its website, “At several points across those decades, we found that Johns Hopkins could have — and should have — done more to inform and work with members of Henrietta Lacks’ family out of respect for them, their privacy and their personal interests.” We’re not sure that apology goes far enough. In fact, it does not in our book. But we applaud the university for at the very least acknowledging that they did wrong by Henrietta Lacks, by her family, and by the broader African American community. How could a university named after a celebrated abolitionist take such a misstep?
New Research Suggests the Benefactor of Johns Hopkins Was a Slaveholder
Well, as it turns out, Johns Hopkins himself — the namesake of the university — wasn’t worthy of being deemed an abolitionist. Indeed, new research that has come out of Johns Hopkins University suggests that Johns Hopkins was a slaveowner. As Jennifer Schuessler reports for The New York Times in a piece entitled “At Johns Hopkins, Revelations About Its Founder and Slavery,” “On Wednesday, Johns Hopkins University released new research revealing that there were enslaved people in its founding benefactor’s household as late as 1850. And while the Hopkins family’s entanglements with slavery are complicated, the university has so far found no evidence of Johns Hopkins’s father freeing any enslaved people.”
Johns Hopkins University Should Take Bold Steps to Address Its Benefactor’s Legacy
Johns Hopkins University’s neighbor, Georgetown University, in recent years, has taken steps to address the university’s ties with slavery. And so it will be interesting to see in the weeks and months to come what Johns Hopkins University will do to address the newly uncovered research that points to Johns Hopkins himself having been not an abolitionist but a slaveholder. If by chance you wish to learn the story of a real abolitionist — one who died for the cause of purging the land of our nation’s original sin — we suggest you tune into the critically acclaimed Showtime series The Good Lord Bird starring Ethan Hawke in the role of a lifetime as John Brown, a man whose failed raid on Harper’s Ferry incited the Civil War. It’s a show for the ages.
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