JHU senior Amani Nelson on why “the truth won’t set us free”

Professor Jones, whose scholarship focuses on Black political activism in 19th-century America, also looked at just how the university came to tell a rosy and, it appears, erroneous story about Johns Hopkins to begin with.

Johns Hopkins portrait

“The story of Hopkins’s forebears having freed enslaved people, of Hopkins as an abolitionist, suited us as an institution,” she said.

That a man of Hopkins’s wealth and position would own or trade in enslaved people is not in itself surprising. Slavery remained legal in Maryland, one of four slave states that stayed in the Union, until shortly before the end of the Civil War.

Professor Jones’s research report notes that at Hopkins’s death, some newspaper articles did refer to his and his family’s history of slaveholding. One recounted a story about his grandfather manumitting enslaved people. (Professor Jones found records of the grandfather freeing eight enslaved people in 1778, but keeping dozens of others in bondage.)

From The New York Times, At Johns Hopkins, Revelations About Its Founder and Slavery (Dec. 9, 2020)