Sojourner Truth Was Enslaved by Family of Rutgers’ 1st President

That, along with other facts about enslavement and the dispossession of Native Americans by the school and its founders, is included in Scarlet and Black, a recently released work prompted by student activists.

Sojourner Truth, born Isabella Baumfree
Sojourner Truth, born Isabella Baumfree Twitter Screenshot

Like many other colleges that are now being forced to atone for their past transgressions against people of color (Georgetown’s sale of slaves to save the college, UT Austin and its fawning relationship with Jefferson Davis, Yale and its buildings named for slaveholders), Rutgers University is also soberly looking at its not-so-pristine history.

In a recently released book, Scarlet and Black, Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History, Rutgers, founded in 1766, owns up to the fact that the university’s founders were slave owners, and Native Americans were displaced as land was transferred to the college.

USA Today also reports the eight-month research project revealed that that abolitionist and women’s-rights activist Sojourner Truth and her parents were owned by the family of Rutgers’ first president, Jacob Hardenbergh.

The book is the result of a 2015 meeting with a group of students concerned about improving the racial and cultural climate on campus. In the fall of 2015, Rutgers University-New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards appointed the university’s Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History, which produced the first volume.

“This work shows that we are not afraid to look at ourselves and our early history,” Edwards said. “We are a large public university that is one of the most diverse in the country, and we think we need to understand our history and not be ashamed of it, but to be able to face it in a forthright way.”

“I want our African-American students to be proud … and to understand that their ancestry helped build the university,” said Deborah Gray White, Rutgers professor of history and chairwoman of the committee on enslaved and disenfranchised populations. “I want New Jerseyans and Americans to understand that African Americans were integral to this nation even though we came here in chains, and we helped build America.

“This is not a way to tear down the university or diminish it, but it is a way to celebrate it and go forward,” White added.

The work examining Rutgers’ history is expected to continue, reports USA Today. Edwards referred to Scarlet and Black as the first volume and is creating a postdoctoral position charged with examining the experiences of African Americans and Native Americans at the university through the 20th century.

Read more at USA Today.

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