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Second Opinion

Second Opinion

Slavery: Close to Home

In mid-December, Johns Hopkins officials shared a difficult revelation with the Johns Hopkins community: newly discovered records showing that Johns Hopkins, the institution’s founder and namesake, held enslaved people in his home during the mid-1800s. Leaders also released a video, with additional information and commentary about the findings and what they mean for the institution. Excerpted below are comments from that video:

Ronald Daniels, President, Johns Hopkins University:

“Johns Hopkins is an institution that believes deeply in truth-seeking and evidence-based discovery and in following the truth wherever it will take us. In recent years, our institution has, through the Hopkins Retrospective and other efforts, begun to delve more deeply and critically into our history. This research guided us to a recent discovery of strong documentary evidence that shows that our founder, Johns Hopkins, the Baltimore philanthropist and merchant, was a slaveholder and that his family had a more extensive relationship to slaveholding than we previously understood.

“We have a vision at this university of Johns Hopkins very much framed by a man who in many ways appeared to be ahead of his times. We’ve now had to come to terms, at least in a very fundamental part of his life, that he was of his times. And that’s hard.”

Martha Jones, Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and Professor of History, commenting on records showing that enslaved people were among the individuals laboring in Johns Hopkins’ home in 1840 and 1850, and perhaps earlier. (There are no enslaved persons listed in Johns Hopkins’ household in the 1860 census.)

“This was important to us, remarkable even, because we had always understood Hopkins to have been an abolitionist — someone who was radically anti-slavery in his thinking and his practices. We really are obliged to dig further and to rethink the very foundational narrative that sits underneath our university today.”

Kevin Sowers, president of the Johns Hopkins Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine:

“When Johns Hopkins established Johns Hopkins Hospital, a part of his edict was to create a hospital that would not turn anyone away based on their ability to pay, their race, or their gender, and to develop an orphanage in the city for African-American children. In a moment in time like this, what’s really important is for us as an organization to assure that we understand what this really means — who Johns Hopkins was, the values he articulated in his will, and the context of it.

Martha Jones:

“We have to acknowledge that both things can be true. One can have been a slaveholder and then imagine oneself the benefactor. One does not negate the other. In the United States, both things can be true.

Paul Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine:

“We know this discovery is important for our community. And that’s why we are just at the beginning of this process. Our full community, including our Baltimore neighbors, will be included as we move through this important journey together.

Ronald Daniels:

“These revelations change our understandings of our founder’s life. They do not change the nature of what these institutions represent. At their best, the university and hospital are inspired and enriched by the values and the aspirations laid out in our founder’s will. They have fueled our institution’s promise throughout our history and will continue to do so well into our future.” 

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