Johns Hopkins and slavery

Dec. 9, 2020

Johns Hopkins University Professor Martha Jones spoke with The New York Times for an article about the recent discovery that the university’s founder and benefactor, Johns Hopkins, owned slaves until the mid-1800s, contradicting the oft-repeated narrative that the his father, “following the directives of his Quaker faith, freed the family’s slaves.”

An excerpt from the article detailing Jones’ work to confirm the connections between newly discovered documents and the Hopkins family, as well as the broader project she is leading about the role racism and discrimination have played at Johns Hopkins, is below:

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.

“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)