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Seminaries apologize for slavery, offer reparations

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Nov 14, 2019 - 10:13:26 AM

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Virginia and Princeton Theological Seminaries will fund reparations for their ties to slavery, each school recently announced.

Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) made an announcement in September that they would endow a fund with the income to fund efforts to make amends for ties to slavery.

The school admitted enslaved persons worked on campus, and that after slavery ended, VTS participated in segregation. The school professed a desire “to repair the material consequences of our sin in the past.”

“This is a start. As we seek to mark Seminary’s milestone of 200 years, we do so conscious that our past is a mixture of sin as well as grace. This is the Seminary recognizing that along with repentance for past sins, there is also a need for action,” explained The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D. dean and president of VTS.

The income from the endowment will be allocated annually in conversation with key stakeholders to support:

• The needs emerging from local congregations linked with VTS;

• The particular needs of any descendants of enslaved persons that worked at the Seminary;

• The work of African American alumni/ae, especially in historic Black congregations;

• The raising up of African American clergy in The Episcopal Church;

• Other activities and programs that promote justice and inclusion.

In October Princeton’s Board of Trustees unanimously supported implementation of a multi-year plan to repent for its ties to slavery. The new initiatives, ranging from increased student financial assistance to curriculum changes to added support for the Center for Black Church Studies, are a direct response to the results of the 2018 two-year historical audit “Princeton Seminary and Slavery.”

“The report was an act of confession,” said John White, dean of students and vice president of student relations. “These responses are intended as acts of repentance that will lead to lasting impact within our community. This is the beginning of the process of repair that will be ongoing.”

The Princeton Seminary will have an immediate rollout of programs at a cost of more than $1 million annually on an ongoing basis. To sustain programming in perpetuity, $27.6 million will be reserved in an endowment. The 20 approved initiatives include:

• Offering 30 new scholarships, valued at the cost of tuition plus $15,000, for students who are descendants of slaves or from underrepresented groups;

• Hiring a full-time director of the Center for Black Church Studies;

• Hiring a new faculty member whose research and teaching will give critical attention to African American experience and ecclesial life;

• Changes in the seminary curriculum, including a required cross-cultural component and integrating into the first-year curriculum for every master’s student sustained academic engagement with the implications of the historical audit;

• Cesignating five doctoral fellowships for students who are descendants of slaves or from underrepresented groups.

“Accepting responsibility for what happened to Black people and wanting to give back is good of Princeton,” said Zarinah Shakir, producer of Perspectives of Interfaith, a video program. “Princeton is one of the wealthiest cities in New Jersey because of the university after Harvard and Yale. This is great news. I will be applying for reparations.”

The historical audit found the seminary did not own slaves and its buildings were not constructed with slave labor. But the seminary benefited from the slave economy through investments in Southern banks in the mid-19th century and from donors who profited from slavery. Founding faculty and leaders also used slave labor at some point. Several of the first professors and board members were deeply involved in the American Colonization Society, which advocated sending free Blacks to Liberia.