The Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History was created in 2015 by Rutgers University–New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards and charged with examining the role that the enslaved and disenfranchised played in the founding and development of Rutgers University, and with making recommendations to him on how the university can best acknowledge their influence on the institution's history. Below are the Committee's recommendations, published in Scarlet and Black, Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History, for how the university can make use of the new aspects of its history.
Scarlet and Black, Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History
Epilogue: Scarlet in Black—On the Uses of History
Jomaira Salas Pujols
On behalf of the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History
In the fall of 2015, black students at more than 77 colleges and universities in the United States organized to demand a series of institutional transformations aimed at addressing systemic racism on college campuses. Many of their demands overlap with students pushing for greater faculty diversity, curricular changes, and expanded budgets for cultural centers.
Not unlike the black student movement of the late 1960s, students of color today are drawing from theories of liberation to push their universities to extend to them the same sense of belonging that white students have had since the founding of higher education in the North American colonies and later the United States.
It is no secret that racial violence was a driving force behind the prosperity of many primarily white colleges and universities and this history continues to cast a long shadow on the lives of students of color today.
To think critically and creatively about the uses of history as a driver of institutional change.
The Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History was born out of this context in an effort to ask difficult but important questions about the role of exploitation and dislocation in the founding of our university. Knowing this history allows us to move forward while creating a welcoming environment for all students. This first step should not be taken lightly, as it reflects a genuine commitment from Committee members, graduate researchers, and the university as a whole to grapple with the scarlet stain that so many higher education institutions attempt to ignore.
The preceding chapters laid out some of the history of how Rutgers University benefited from the institution of slavery and the disenfranchisement of indigenous populations. This epilogue suggests some of the ways we can make use of that history.
Though just a preliminary investigation, eight months of arduous archival research have confirmed our suspicions that Rutgers University and its founders and benefactors were prodigiously involved in the slave trade and the slavery economy. Albeit indirectly, we know the college benefited from Native American Removal, breaking ground in a land once occupied by the Lenni Lenape. We know that our namesake, Henry Rutgers, was a slave owner. We know the Livingston Campus is named after William Livingston, whose family was involved in the slave trade and were well-known slave owners. We know that the early financial health of our institution was largely a result of monetary and in-kind contributions from individuals who made their wealth off of slaves.
And we know that despite a struggling yet striving New Brunswick African-American community, Rutgers’ founding fathers supported schemes to send blacks back to Africa rather than build an interracial community.
And yet the Committee’s findings demand even more difficult questions:
- How do we grapple with the fact that some of the people who literally built Rutgers were enslaved?
- What can the institution do to acknowledge and reconcile with its role in benefiting from slavery?
- Perhaps most challenging, how can it make this history accessible to students and other community members?
It is with this last question that this epilogue asks us to engage: to think critically and creatively about the uses of history as a driver of institutional change.
Recommendations of the Committee
- Place historical markers around campus
Place historical markers around campus to help disseminate some of the material in Scarlet and Black. These markers should commemorate people such as Will, the slave who helped build Old Queens, and Sojourner Truth, whose parents were owned by the Hardenberghs. Historical markers should also be prominently placed in some of the buildings named after Rutgers leaders who owned slaves, were involved in the slave trade and race-making in the United States. These markers should give some of the history of the founder’s connection to slavery, the slave trade, and African Americans.
The committee also recommends that the space in front of Old Queens be named “Will’s Way,” to commemorate the work of all African Americans who helped build Rutgers.
- Establish Rutgers physical and virtual tours
Establish Rutgers physical and virtual tours, which should incorporate as much of the material in Scarlet and Black as possible. The information should be incorporated into tours conducted by the Rutgers admissions office, Visitor Center, and online media. A separate “Back in Black Tour” should be developed for high school and other groups seeking to get more in-depth information. The title “Back in Black” was suggested by undergraduate students who were polled to ascertain their ideas.
- Create a digital tour
Create a digital tour of Rutgers using information from Scarlet and Black and other histories of Rutgers.
- Establish retention scholarships
Administered by the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, these scholarships should aim to increase the graduation rates of “at risk” students. Scholarships only begin to address some of the legacy issues raised by the enslavement of blacks in New Jersey and the subsequent discrimination that prevented African Americans from attending Rutgers.
- Designate postdoc and graduate fellowships
Designate postdoc and graduate fellowships for the research connected with the Scarlet and Black project.
- Institutionalize the Scarlet and Black Project
Institutionalize the Scarlet and Black project by naming it such and by placing it in the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis. Also provide for its proper administration.
- Establish an exchange program with the Haskell Indian Nations University
Establish an exchange program with the Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. The program can involve students but should also involve scholarly collaboration.
- Provide funds for the annual New Jersey Native American folk festival
Provide funds for the annual New Jersey Native American folk festival so that the land lost by Native Americans can be properly commemorated.
- Name some of the new buildings after contemporary, or historically prominent, African Americans and Native Americans
Name some of the new buildings after contemporary, or historically prominent, African Americans and Native Americans. Consider renaming one building.
Continue the research and publish volume 2 of Scarlet and Black
The research should move forward in time through the 19th and 20th centuries bringing in the history of the Camden and Newark campuses and their experience with African and Native American students. The time period should include the modern civil rights movement.
Join the Universities Studying Slavery consortium
Join the Universities Studying Slavery consortium. Established in 2015 to “address both historical and contemporary issues dealing with race and inequality in higher education and in university communities as well as the complicated legacies of slavery in modern American society,” this consortium hosts semi-annual meetings to “discuss strategies, collaborate on research, and learn from one another.” Among its members are: the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, Georgetown University, and the University of North Carolina.
- Commission an artist to create a proper art form
Commission an artist to create a proper art form to memorialize the dispossessed and enslaved.
- Establish open forums
Establish open forums at which students can discuss the subjects raised by historical and contemporary issues involving race and Rutgers. These forums should be sponsored by campus student groups.
- Make a diversity course a requirement of the core curriculum
Make a diversity course a requirement of the core curriculum.