Historical Records Reveal That ‘Abolitionist’ Johns Hopkins Actually Owned Slaves In The 1800s

Long thought to be a fierce abolitionist, 19th-century industrialist, and philanthropist Johns Hopkins held slaves before the Civil War, according to a recent statement by administrators of the extremely respected institution and the hospital he is named after.

The finding came as part of a 2013 endeavor by the school to “seriously study” its history. Ronald J. Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University; Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and chief executive of Johns Hopkins Medicine; and Kevin W. Sowers, president of the Johns Hopkins Health System, issued a joint statement to the institution’s community on Wednesday.

Government census records reveal Hopkins, a Quaker, had at least four slaves around the mid-1800s, according to the statement.

“For the better part of a century, our institutions thought of Johns Hopkins as an early and ardent abolitionist whose father, a devout Quaker, had freed the family’s enslaved people in 1807.” However, research conducted as part of the Hopkins Retrospective over the past few months has led us to doubt this narrative,” the statement read.

Mr. Hopkins was the owner of one enslaved person recorded in his household in 1840 and four enslaved people reported in 1850, according to official census statistics. There are no enslaved people recorded in the household in the 1860 census.”

Following his death in 1873, Hopkins left $7 million in his will to fund the development of a hospital, training institutions, an orphanage, and a university, according to The Washington Post. At the time, it was thought to be the largest philanthropic giving in the country’s history. However, in his will, the then-merchant and railroad investor directed that the hospital provide care to all Baltimore indigents, regardless of sex, age, or race, when it opened. He also instructed his trustees to establish a Black orphanage in the city.

“The fact that Mr. Hopkins had a direct connection to slavery at any point in his life — a crime against humanity that tragically persisted in the state of Maryland until 1864 — is a difficult revelation for us, as we know it will be for our community, at home and abroad, and particularly for our Black faculty, students, staff, and alumni,” the statement continued.

“It recalls not only the darkest parts in our country’s and city’s histories, but also the complicated history of our institutions since then, as well as the racist and inequitable legacies we are working together to address.”

Martha S. Jones, a history professor at the university, wrote in an opinion piece for The Post that the revelation will raise eyebrows about the philanthropist and also cast a dark cloud over the university at a time when its researchers have been lauded for their efforts in the fight against coronavirus.

Jones added, “This year, many of us at Johns Hopkins have taken pride in being associated with our colleagues in medical and public health who have brilliantly faced the coronavirus pandemic.” “For me, pride is now mixed with bitterness. Our university was a gift from a guy who profited from the liberty and dignity of others.”

On the anniversary of Hopkins’ death, the institution hosts a ceremony at his cemetery in Baltimore on Christmas Eve. On December 9, the university’s website’s “History & Mission” section modified its page to highlight Hopkins’ history as a slave owner, stating that there is “strong evidence” that he “kept enslaved individuals in his home until at least the mid-1800s.”

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