Johns Hopkins University and Medicine announced Wednesday that it learned its founder was a slaveowner, which was in contrast with a longstanding narrative that Mr. Johns Hopkins was an early abolitionist.
These newly discovered census records complicate the understanding we have long had of Johns Hopkins as our founder. He launched our university—as America’s first research university—in 1876, a little over a decade after the conclusion of the Civil War. At the time, his was the largest philanthropic gift ever made in the United States. In his bequest, Mr. Hopkins also created a hospital, opened in 1889, that has transformed American medical education and set the standard for modern patient care. Importantly for his time, Mr. Hopkins specifically directed that the hospital extend its care to include the indigent of Baltimore regardless of sex, age, or race. Further, he called upon his trustees to create an orphanage for Black children in Baltimore.
The values and aspirations embedded in these bequests have inspired and enriched our institutions and, at our best, fueled our promise. But the fact that Mr. Hopkins had, at any time in his life, a direct connection to slavery—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 most especially our Black faculty, students, staff, and alumni. It calls to mind not only the darkest chapters in the history of our country and our city but also the complex history of our institutions since then, and the legacies of racism and inequity we are working together to confront.
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