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Brown University Creates Commission to Commemorate History of R.I. Slavery


Brown University has established a 10-member commission to explore how the history of slavery and the slave trade in Rhode Island should be commemorated in Rhode Island, Providence, and at the university.

The commission is composed of members of the Brown community as well as individuals nominated by the governor of Rhode Island and mayor of Providence, and is being asked to recommend possible monuments, sites and ceremonies.

The recommendation to acknowledge the history through a “living site of memory, inviting fresh discovery without provoking paralysis or shame,” was proposed by the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice in a report presented to President Ruth J. Simmons in October 2006. The report, commissioned by Simmons in 2003, found that some of the university’s early benefactors were involved in the slave trade and that the university benefited from their involvement.

The committee made recommendations for ways that the university might fully and accurately acknowledge that past and move forward, including creation of a slave trade memorial, sponsorship of a competition for the memorial, and design of an annual day of remembrance on campus.

“Central to any program of action inspired by the report is the acknowledgement of the history of the state and the university and their connection to the institution of slavery,” Simmons wrote in the university’s response to the report. “Neglect of any part of that history would be reprehensible for a university that argues for open discourse, fidelity to truth, and non-discrimination in its values and decisions. An action plan should, therefore, include efforts to memorialize both this process and the history on which it cast light.”

Brown has created a $10-million target for an endowment for Providence Public Schools, as well as exploring how best to carry out a major research and teaching initiative on issues of slavery and justice; making copies of the report and its materials readily available to the public; and continuing and expanding Brown’s academic partnerships with a number of historically Black colleges and universities.

— Diverse Staff Reports

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