University of Cincinnati Addresses the History of Its Slave-Owning Founder

Earlier this year, the University of Cincinnati established a commission that was charged with making recommendations on how to deal with the legacy of its founder Charles McMicken. The university’s College of Arts and Sciences bears his name. McMicken was a slave owner.

When McMicken died in 1858, he left money and property to the city of Cincinnati “to found an institution where White boys and girls might be taught.” He also left provisions to free his slaves and send them to a parcel of land in Liberia. It is thought that McMicken fathered children with enslaved women.

The commission recently presented its report to the university president Neville G. Pinto. He is now recommending to the board of trustees that McMicken’s name be removed from the College of Arts and Sciences. President Pinto stated that “I believe using Charles McMicken’s name in affiliation with the College of Arts and Sciences has significant detrimental effects on the university’s mission and core values. Truth be told, McMicken’s place in our history has been too tidy for too long. There is no visible sign we have wrestled with his troubling past. No sign we stand, united and unequivocal, against his exploitation of enslaved people. No sign we own up to the paradox of his life: namely, his philanthropy helped get us here, but his legacy, left unquestioned, won’t get us there — to a more vibrant tomorrow.”

President Pinto did not call for the renaming of buildings and spaces on campus bearing the McMickon name. But he recommended that digital displays be presented at these sites that more fully and fairly represent McMicken so that his “legacies and the university’s relationship to him, in all their complexities, remain a vital and living part of the university’s history.”

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