Harvard confronts ties to slavery

By COLLIN BINKLEY

Harvard University in the United States has publicly acknowledged its deep ties to colonial-era slavery, casting a light on parts of its history that long remained in the shadows.

At a conference that Harvard organised to explore the relationship between colleges and slavery, university President Drew Faust on Friday said the school must confront the grimmer parts of its past before it can move forward.

"Harvard was directly complicit in slavery from the college's earliest days in the 17th century until the system of bondage ended in Massachusetts in 1783," Faust, a historian, said in her opening speech.

Scholars from several universities gathered at the Cambridge campus to present research detailing how Harvard and other early American schools benefited from slavery.

At least two of Harvard's early presidents brought slaves to live and work on campus, while some of the school's major donors made their fortunes through slave labour or the slave trade.

"Some of our most esteemed educational institutions are also the product of some of the most horrific violence that has ever descended on any group of people," said Sven Beckert, a Harvard history professor who has studied the school's slavery ties.

Harvard is the latest in a string of US universities that have sought to confront their connections to slavery, often only after students demanded it.

Last month, Yale University agreed to change the name of a residential college that honoured a 19th century alumnus who was a fierce supporter of slavery.

Columbia University issued a report in January examining its link to slavery.

Meanwhile, Georgetown University announced last year it will give admission preference to the descendants of 272 slaves who were sold in 1838 to save the school's finances.