A 2006 report commissioned by Brown University revealed that institution's complex and contested involvement in slavery-setting off a controversy that leapt from the ivory tower to make headlines across the country. But Brown's troubling past was far from unique. In Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder, a leading historian of race in America, lays bare uncomfortable truths about race, slavery, and the American academy.
Many of America's revered colleges and universities-from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to Rutgers, Williams College, and the University of North Carolina-were soaked in the sweat, the tears, and sometimes the blood of people of color. The earliest academies proclaimed their mission to Christianize the “savages” of North America and played a key role in white conquest. Later, the slave economy and higher education grew up together, each nurturing the other. Slavery funded colleges, built campuses, and paid the wages of professors. Enslaved Americans waited on faculty and students; academic leaders aggressively courted the support of slave owners and slave traders. Significantly, as Wilder shows, our leading universities were dependent on human bondage and became breeding grounds for the racist ideas that sustained it.
Ebony and Ivy is a powerful and propulsive study and the first of its kind, revealing a history of oppression behind the institutions usually considered the cradle of liberal politics.
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Craig Steven Wilder is a professor of American history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has taught at Williams College and Dartmouth College. The author of A Covenant with Color and In the Company of Black Men, he was recently featured in the news-making documentary The Central Park Five. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.From Booklist:
*Starred Review* Not only were many of America’s most prestigious colleges founded and supported by slaveholders, but the colleges also provided much of the scholarly and cultural basis of support for slavery. Historian Wilder documents the uncomfortable truth of the inextricable tie between slavery and the ivory tower, how venerable colleges, including Harvard, Princeton, William and Mary, Yale, and others, vied for the attention, land, sons, and money of plantation owners. Slavery provided financial support to the colleges and secure career prospects for many of their graduates, and many colleges owned slaves used for work, trade, and sale. What began for many universities as an ostensible mission of civilizing savages—Native Americans and Africans—later morphed into support for the establishment and development of colonies and territorial expansion. In the growing debate about slavery, abolition, and the movement to return Africans to Africa, prestigious universities and scholars helped to frame and address questions of theology, economics, medicine, history, and other areas of study in the growing debate around the issue, many legitimizing slavery and racism even as they benefited from it. This is a well-researched and revealing look at the connection between American academia and American slavery. --Vanessa Bush
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