The project began in November 2016, when Georgetown University history professor Adam Rothman came to Gonzaga to speak about the research he’s done as a member of Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery. Created in the fall of 2015, the group was formed to study Georgetown’s history of slavery, including the sale of 272 slaves by the Jesuits in 1838.
During Rothman's talk, a student raised his hand and asked: “Are you aware of any connections between Gonzaga and slavery?”
Rothman told the students that he didn’t know the answer, but if they wanted to research it themselves they were welcome to do so at the Georgetown University Archives. Much to his surprise, they took him up on his offer.
With the help of History teacher Ed Donnellan, a group of seven students spent several weeks over the summers of 2017 and 2018 conducting research in Georgetown University's archives. They studied accounting books, written histories, enrollment records, and other original documents related to the Jesuits' Washington Seminary on F Street, NW, which was later renamed Gonzaga College and relocated to Eye Street in 1871.
Through photos and analysis of original documents, the exhibit presented what the student researchers found, including evidence that the Washington Seminary—like other institutions operated by the Jesuits at the time—received both food and proceeds from several Jesuit-owned plantations in Maryland. They also found reference to the names of several enslaved persons—Isaih, Ned, Mary, Sophie, and Gabriel—in Washington Seminary accounting books.
At the opening, the student researchers and Mr. Donnellan were presented with awards for their work, and four seniors read original poems that they wrote in response to the research. Father Planning praised the boys for "helping us look at ourselves, and look at ourselves honestly."
"This exploration of what is a very painful past for Gonzaga and for the Society of Jesus is very important," he said. "It's my hope and prayer that this begins something in our community that helps us heal, helps us move forward, and helps us be honest about where we've come from and who we are today."
Below, you can browse through a digital version of the panels that made up the exhibit (click on the button in the bottom-right corner to expand them to full screen) and watch a video recapping the exhibit opening.