Columbia University will be adding historical markers to four residence halls acknowledging legacies of slavery and racism and also commemorating African America students, according to Reuters. Columbia is joining Harvard Law School, Rutgers University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of South Carolina, which have done similar measures.
These markers are a part of a university-wide project initiated by President Lee Bollinger after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. The initiative includes signs at residence halls John Jay Hall and 50 Haven Avenue, formerly Bard Hall, noting that slave owners John Jay and Samuel Bard had close ties to the university.
A marker at Furnald Hall will tell the story of a morning in 1924 when men in Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods burned a seven-foot-tall wooden cross near the dormitory. Furnald was home at the time to law student Frederick W. Wells, the first Black student to live on-campus at Columbia during the academic year. While the cross burned, students ran outside his door shouting racist insults.
The high percentage of students of color, among them poet Langston Hughes, who lived at Hartley Hall in the early 20th century will be commemorated with a plaque there, according to Columbia Professor Thai Jones, who taught a “Columbia & Slavery” course and has led the effort to erect the markers.
Columbia’s markers will be installed in the fall initially as digital monitors and could become permanent plaques, according to Jones. In February 2021, Rutgers University’s version highlighted the history of various local figures, including the university’s first president, Jacob Rusten Hardenbergh, and New Jersey’s first governor, William Livingston.
Harvard Law School created plaques to recognize “the enslaved whose labor created wealth that made possible the founding of the Harvard Law School.” The school also approved the removal of the Law School’s shield, which had included three sheaves of wheat derived directly from the Royall coat of arms.