The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, March 28, 2004

Reparations shakedown under way at Brown University?

Gradual emancipation was, it seems, enacted in Rhode Island in 1784; and the slave trade abolished there in 1787. A flourishing slaving operation had been carried on from Newport, Providence and other RI ports, and illegal trading, I suspect, was not unheard of after abolition - John Brown was tried in the state's courts for, and acquitted of, illegal slaving .

But to what extent was the wealth of the Brown family (after whose scion, James Brown, the university is named [1]) that helped to endow it in its early days derived from slaving?

And how much can the shakedown merchants blackmail out of the school on the back of it?

I have a feeling these questions have been knocking around for some time. A piece by Dr. Richard Lobban (apparently from December 2002) says
...the Providence Journal (1 August 2002, Emancipation Day) proclaimed that the John Brown House was the "house that slavery built"...

Lobban lists a good many slaving connections for Brown - including a plantation in Surinam - and names two professors, Norman Fiering of Brown and Stanley Lemons of Rhode Island College, as solitary opponents of a slaving or slave-holding source for most of the Brown family wealth.

A piece in the Brown Alumni Magazine of July-August 2003, which namechecks the Aetna shakedown launched in 2002 in New York - the case dismissed by the District Court judge in January 2004 [2].

Hostilities at Brown apparently got underway in March 2001 over the famous David Horowitz ad Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea-and Racist Too was published in the college rag.

According to the BAM piece, the slaving connections with Brown's endowment are murky - those with Harvard and Yale are much clearer, it seems.

It also has a couple of quotes suggesting that Northerners today do not realise that - I was about to type their ancestors, whose patent wrongness rather hits the nub [3] - Northerners of 200 years ago were intimately concerned in the slave trade.

Is that true? Given the general slant of what I take to be the broad thrust of history teaching in the US in the last couple of decades - multi-culti happy-clappiness for all except whitey, who is blamed for all ills - it would be odd.

At that stage, it seems, President Ruth Simmons (herself with slave antecedents) was keeping her counsel on the issue.

What happened in the interim to get her to set up the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice which had its first panel discussion a few days ago (Brown Daily Herald March 19), I'm not clear.

The Committee has its own website which includes its terms of reference. Looks to me as if it's intended primarily as a research exercise, rather than an inquiry into legal liability or a touchy-feely rolling Oprah show.

I actually was alerted to the topic by a piece in the Guardian Education section (March 23) - I get the feeling the hack might have gone away disappointed with the modest scope of Simmons' committee.

But let it not be forgetten that reparations have been in full vigour for decades at Brown in the form of affirmative action...

  1. Brown Daily Herald March 19.

  2. Opinion and other documentation here. Aetna apparently apologised for having insured slaves 200 years previously, rather letting the side down, one feels.

  3. The phrase as used in the Jeeves stories of PG Wodehouse was rem acu tetigisti.

MORE (April 7)

John Rosenberg has a piece on Brown's Third World Transition Program.

Fair enough - just - you may think: induction of foreign students into the American way of (academic) life and so forth.

Wrong. Third World means non-white - Park Avenue or Philadelphia's Main Line have pockets of 'Third World' by this definition!

It gets much worse. And I wouldn't like to spoil it for you...

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