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King’s scholarly inquiry into its connections with slavery

King’s scholarly inquiry into its connections with slavery

In 2018, on the recommendation of its Equity Committee, King’s established a scholarly inquiry to examine the university’s connections, direct and indirect, with slavery in the 18th and early 19th centuries. President William Lahey has stressed the importance of the inquiry to ensuring King’s has a complete understanding of its history, including its involvement and the involvement of its leaders, benefactors, staff and students in slavery, and the continuing legacies of slavery. He has also stressed that coming to terms with this history is necessary to the College’s hopes of building a stronger relationship with the African Nova Scotian community. He has however also said the inquiry is not an end in itself but instead “is part of the continuing and sustained conversation we need to have with Black people about how me make King’s a university for them that makes valuable contributions to their communities”.

The inquiry comprises historical essays by leading scholars on four topics: the College’s direct and indirect connections to slavery; its connections to King’s College New York (now Columbia University); and existing literature on slavery in the Maritimes. The papers on indirect connections, connections to King’s NY, and existing literature, are all complete and posted on the University’s website. Sections 1 and 2 of the paper on direct connections have also been completed and are posted on the website. The remaining four sections of this paper all close to finished and will be posted on the website soon, as they are completed.

A key component of the inquiry is to have each paper independently reviewed before it is accepted by the College. The completed papers and sections 1 and 2 of the paper on direct connections were reviewed by a panel consisting of representatives of the King’s community and academic historians from outside of King’s with expertise in relevant fields of historical scholarship. The four remaining sections of the direct connections paper are being independently reviewed by historians, including those who served on the review panel.

Pictured: King’s President William Lahey, professor emeritus and researcher Shirley Tillotson, researcher David W. States, researcher Karolyn Smardz Frost, and King’s Board Chair Doug Ruck at a January 2020 information session. Photo by Andrea McGuire.

Major findings of the inquiry include that the university’s founder, The Rt. Rev. Charles Inglis, owned enslaved people while living in New York, where he was briefly Acting President (1771-72) of New York’s King’s College before it became Columbia. Authors Karolyn Frost and David States explain he was one of the men, all Anglican clerics, who petitioned George III from New York to grant a charter for a King’s College in Nova Scotia, the majority of whom owned enslaved people in New York, Nova Scotia or in both. Unlike King’s first President, William Cochran, who was an abolitionist, there is no record of Inglis objecting to slavery. Instead, the evidence suggests he shared the worldview of many of those associated with the founding and operation of King’s in its early decades, that enslavement of Black people was part of the natural order.

One of researcher Shirley Tillotson’s key findings in her essay How (and how much) King’s College benefited from slavery in the West Indies, 1789 to 1854, was that between 1803 and 1833, 35.7 per cent of King’s public funding came from taxes on slave-produced goods such as sugar. Tillotson summarizes her findings by saying:

We inherit an institution funded at its origin by unjustly extracted profits and taxes charged on blood-soaked goods. We should understand the benefit to the College and the province that was taken from enslaved people of the 18th and 19th century West Indies.

Frost and States give depth and detail to this conclusion by documenting how the family incomes of many tuition-paying King’s students originated in the work of enslaved people in the West Indies and the Maritimes.

A more complete summary of major findings can be found in this presentation [PDF]. They have been shared with members of the African Nova Scotia community in a series of discussions hosted by President Lahey and Board Chair Doug Ruck, QC. They were also presented at an information session held at King’s for students, faculty and staff on January 27, 2020. An information session for the public, scheduled for March 18, 2020, had to be postponed due to COVID-19.

In welcoming people to the January 27 session, Mr. Ruck said people need to talk about the results and understand that slavery existed in Canada, slavery existed in Nova Scotia, and the legacy of slavery is still with us. President Lahey is seeking advice from the University’s Equity Committee on the measures the University should take in light of the findings to address this legacy for the Black students of today and tomorrow. Further guidance will also be sought from the African Nova Scotian community. In the meantime, King’s has created new scholarships for Black students, created a new equity officer position and collaborated with the Canadian Association of Black Journalists Association and the Nova Scotia Community College on J-School Noire, an educational initiative for Black kids interested in journalism.

At the beginning of its scholarly inquiry, King’s became one of the first universities in Canada, along with Dalhousie, to join Universities Studying Slavery (USS). Based out of the University of Virginia, this consortium of more than 60 universities is dedicated to organizing multi-institutional collaboration on research dealing with historical and contemporary issues dealing with race and inequality in higher education and in university communities. King’s is one of a small number of Canadian universities to have joined USS, alongside Dalhousie University and the University of New Brunswick.

Recently, the USS accepted the application of King’s and Dalhousie to jointly host the fall 2021 conference of the USS in Halifax. The conference is scheduled for October 20-23, inclusive. This will be the first USS-member conference that will be held outside of the United States. Attendance will be open to the general public and you are urged to check this website often as more conference details are posted. King’s hopes the collaboration with Dalhousie is part of a larger collaboration between the two universities supporting teaching and research on the Black experience in Canada.


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