Craig S. Wilder, a professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the author of a fascinating new book that details the relationships of American colleges and universities with the institution of slavery. The book, Ebony and Ivory: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, was published last month by Bloomsbury Press.
According to Professor Wilder, the slave economy and higher education grew up together, each nurturing the other. Slavery funded colleges, built campuses, and paid the wages of professors. Enslaved Americans waited on faculty and students; academic leaders aggressively courted the support of slave owners and slave traders. Significantly, as Wilder shows, our leading universities, dependent on human bondage, became breeding grounds for the racist ideas that sustained them.
And the colleges and universities continued their relationship with the institution of slavery well into the nineteenth century. “Colleges turned to and exploited the slave economies of the Americas at the same time they were hosting debates about whether slavery was right or wrong,” Professor Wilder writes.
Professor Wilder is a graduate of Fordham University in The Bronx, New York. He holds two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from Columbia. His earlier books are In the Company of Black Men: The African Influence on African American Culture in New York City (New York University Press, 2001); and A Covenant with Color: Race and Social Power in Brooklyn (Columbia University Press, 2000).