As we grapple with this history and its implications for race relations on our campus and in the world in the decades following until the present day, we must come to terms with the legacy of our community’s sin. The committee’s historical audit has focused upon the Seminary’s interaction with slavery and hence has dealt chiefly with the years between 1812 and the Civil War. But legacies of racism and assumptions of white normativity have a history beyond that era. As Matthew Anderson’s initial difficulty in securing on-campus housing in 1874 illustrates (see above), antebellum prejudices persisted at the Seminary after the end of slavery. Moreover, Anderson’s success does not appear to have permanently reversed the practice of encouraging the Seminary’s relatively few black students to board in Princeton’s African American community. In 1911, when Benjamin Warfield (as presiding officer of the faculty) remarked to his colleagues “that if another colored student came there was no objection to having him room in the dormitory,” his comment seems to have marked a departure from custom and infuriated at least one member of the faculty.1
By the 1960s and 1970s, there were hopeful signs at Princeton Seminary of a more inclusive vision of justice. In 1965, for example, some students and faculty alike went to Selma, Alabama, to march on behalf of civil rights. The Association of Black Seminarians was organized on campus in 1968. In 1969, the Seminary made its first permanent appointment of a Black faculty member in the person of Geddes Hanson and two years later called Edler Hawkins, a distinguished African American pastor serving in the Bronx, to a professorship. In 1965, Ulysses B. Blakeley (ThM, class of 1948), a Presbyterian pastor and synod executive, was the first African American appointed to the Princeton Seminary Board of Trustees, serving a three-year term as alumni trustee. In 1970, Milton Galamison (ThM, class of 1949), a prominent African-American leader in the movement for school integration in New York City and pastor of the Siloam Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, joined the Board of Trustees.
These parts of the Seminary’s history serve as reminders that the work commenced by this audit could profitably move on to later eras and subjects. The legacy of our history in the nineteenth century has had painful and redemptive repercussions across the generations until the present day. We still have much work to do as a community of faith and learning in order to understand our history and present realities so that we can move forward into the future to which God calls us.
Many institutions of higher education have been engaged in similar historical audits of their own participation in slavery in America. These reports typically lead to conversations and eventually recommendations for memorializing and taking responsibility for the wrongs committed. As an institution of higher education of the church, Princeton Seminary has a theological framework for reconciling our history with the commitments of Christian faith. Our faith tradition calls us to repentance after making confession. In making confession, we tell the truth about our history before God and before the community of faith. In making repentance, we seek to make substantive changes in our way of life as an act of contrition before God and those we continue to hurt through the legacy of our community’s sins.
Our proposal is that a process be established to develop a seminary-wide conversation about this report and the ongoing legacy of our engagement with slavery. Through this process suggestions for specific actions to take in response will certainly arise from all quarters of the seminary community. Accordingly, we propose the following:
Tell the truth in all of its complexity.
- Publish this report and distribute it widely among the seminary community.
- Make the report publicly accessible online in a format that may include other relevant archival material.
- Hold public forums beginning in the fall of 2018 on this historical audit of the Seminary’s relationship to slavery and its enduring legacy of racism on our campus. Trustees, faculty, students, alumni, and administrators should be a part of the conversation that develops around these forums.
Encourage further dialogue and scholarly inquiry about the implications of this history for the Seminary, the church, and the academy.
- Hold an academic conference on the historical audit that will solicit scholarly papers and publish the proceedings in an edition of Theology Today so that this scholarly exchange can be shared broadly.
- Engage scholarly expertise from those outside the seminary community to solicit their input to our conversations and recommendations for responses.
Make confession and repentance as a community.
- Offer liturgical and artistic events that allow for confession, repentance, and envisioning a new way of life together.
- Seek broad input from the seminary community about recommendations for institutional responses to this report and appropriate ways to memorialize this history.
A task force representing faculty, administrators, students, alumni, and trustees should be organized to oversee the public events and discussions of this report. It will receive proposals from the seminary community for responses to our findings and make a formal set of recommendations to the Board of Trustees.