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After Learning Her Family Was Enslaved By Georgetown University, A 63-Year-Old Woman Is In The Freshman Class

"I’m going to be the oldest not-18-year-old ... to ever be a part of a freshman class."

Image by Dave Wilson/Flickr.

In the early 1800s, Georgetown University relied on Jesuit plantations in Maryland to help finance its operations. In 1838, the Jesuit priests who ran the institution decided to sell 272 of its slaves to Louisiana to finance the floundering university’s future. The sale earned the university $3.3 million in today’s dollars and was organized by two Georgetown’s early presidents. Today, the university is apologizing for its original sin by reaching out to the descendants of the 272 slaves.

In April, Georgetown offered a formal apology to the descendants, and over 100 attended a vigil and dinner at the school. The university also announced it would name one of its buildings after Isaac Hawkins, the first enslaved person listed on the 1838 sales docket. It changed the name of two buildings that had been named after former presidents who were involved in the sale to Freedom and Remembrance halls in order to commemorate those it enslaved.

The school also announced it was giving legacy status to descendants of the 272 slaves. One of the first to be admitted under Georgetown’s new policy is 63-year-old New Orleans chef Meli Short-Colomb. This fall, she’s leaving her job to move into the dorms. She hopes to graduate in 2021. “I’m going to be the oldest not-18-year-old ... to ever be a part of a freshman class at Georgetown University,” she told APM Reports’ Kate Ellis. Georgetown has agreed to cover her room, board, and tuition.

It all began when she received an email from a geneticist who told Short-Colomb that her three-time great-grandparents were part of the sale. After considering the pain inflicted on her family by the university, she was “hurt and angry” and “disappointed.” While other descendants thought about sending their children or grandchildren to the university, Short-Colomb pictured herself there. When she learned she was admitted to the school in June, she broke down in tears. “For Georgetown to do this, it was special and it does mean something and I feel I have been touched by grace,” she said.

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