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Saint Louis University SGA Urges University to Work with Descendants of the Saint Louis University Enslaved

The Descendants of the Saint Louis University Enslaved (DSLUE) continue to press forward in their effort for reparative justice as the Saint Louis University Student Government Association (SGA) has passed a resolution encouraging the University to move forward using the descendants’ 10-point plan as a starting point. On April 24, 2024, SGA Senate Resolution (SR) 007-24 acknowledged that the University “has not made substantial progress toward reconciling with SLU’s history of enslavement,” and states that “not atoning, reconciling and acknowledging the university’s past with enslavement directly contrasts the mission of Saint Louis University.”

The remedies put forth in the DSLUE 10-point plan include a formal apology from the University, a school-wide initiative to continue researching and preserving evidence of the university’s reliance on slaves, commemorations and memorials, and direct support from the University in the form of scholarships, economic opportunities, and cash payments. The plan asks the University to actively collaborate with DSLUE in advancing these initiatives, which include fundraising efforts that would support the suggested initiatives.

“Watching the SGA student leadership vote unanimously in favor of the resolution was a historic moment,” said Robin Proudie, founder of DSLUE.  “We are grateful and humbled to have their support.”  Encouraged by the recent outreach from the university, Proudie continued, “It seems to be going in a positive direction, but I believe it is well past time to resolve this matter as it’s been almost five years since the university first reached out to descendants.”  Proudie’s great grandmother, three times removed, Henrietta Mills, was one of many Ancestors born into slavery at SLU.

Areva Martin, Esq., one of the lead attorneys representing DSLUE, echoed, “The Student Government Association has spoken and embraced this plan, which reflects significant effort and consideration on the part of the descendants to champion not only what is best for the descendants themselves but also Saint Louis University and the community.  The harm done in this matter is multidimensional and the remedies must be as well, which goes beyond scholarships and stipends.”

St. Louis University (SLU) has been confronting revelations from the Slavery, History, Memory, and Reconciliation Project, which first undertook an effort of investigation in 2016. The resulting report, presented to SLUs Board of Trustees in 2019, revealed the Jesuits forcibly relocated enslaved people from Maryland to Missouri specifically to exploit their stolen labor and skills to build and sustain SLU. The investigation uncovered the names and experiences of specific individuals enslaved by the Jesuits from 1823 to 1865, and identified some of their descendants. The research did not include a determination of the value of the unpaid wages of the descendants’ ancestors or the economic value of their forced contributions to the university. The attorneys representing DSLUE engaged two of the nation’s leading experts to develop a first-of-its-kind valuation of the stolen wages. Dr. Thomas Craemer and Dr. Julianne Malveaux used well-documented historical U.S. wage data to calculate the economic benefit SLU has amassed from its ownership of slaves. They estimate that the total lost wages stemming from the unpaid wages of SLU’s slaves alone (not accounting for lost freedom, lost investment opportunities, pain and suffering or other factors) ranges from $361 million dollars at a conservative three percent interest rate to well over $70 billion dollars at a six percent interest rate.

Support for the specifics of the 10-point plan was echoed in a letter to DSLUE from Adolphus M. Pruitt, II, President of St. Louis City NAACP, who wrote that “these remedies support reconciliation and healing and could serve as concrete steps to address the legacy of slavery and its ongoing impacts; and can serve as a model for other institutions seeking to confront their own histories of exploitation and oppression.”

This action from the SGA is in line with that of Georgetown University students, who, in 2019 voted overwhelmingly for a proposal to create a fund to help descendants of the enslaved people sold by the school in 1838 to pay off debts – an effort that helped spur a formalized reparations program at Georgetown.

“The University recently named a point of contact in the President’s office along with the SLU’s new Vice President of Special Projects, and these contacts have held two initial meetings with the descendants and their representatives,” said Martin. “Although we’ve yet to receive a commitment from the school, we are encouraged by their outreach and are hopeful they will honor their mission and repair the harms done by quickly adopting this plan.”

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