For the past decade MIT professor Craig Steven Wilder has been digging deep into the legacy of slavery at some of the United States’ most elite universities. Through his investigation he found that schools such as Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and Yale were all built on the foundation of a slave economy. In his new book, "Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities," Wilder looks closely at how these influential learning institutions grew up in key geographic regions based on founders’ investments in the Atlantic slave trade, and the role the wealthy founders had more broadly in American politics.
In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, he explains what this new information tells us about the American higher education system.
I argue in the book that actually what allows the college to become–the university to become what we know today, an independent, influential actor in public affairs, rather than an offshoot of churches, which is what they are in the colonial period, right–what allows them to break free of the church and establish themselves and their own prestige in the public arena is the ability to articulate a new vision of the United States, a new future for the United States. But it’s premised on racial science. It’s premised upon a claim that academics, intellectuals, can make a better, more informed, truer argument about the future of the nation and the question of slavery. And they use race science to make that claim.