About the Project

The WashU & Slavery Project began in Fall 2020 when the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity (CRE2) convened a working group to explore participation in Universities Studying Slavery (USS). This group began exploring relationships between slavery, its legacies, and our institutional history, and several courses that year engaged students in related research, including a review of USS projects at other universities. A proposed initial phase of the WashU & Slavery Project was enthusiastically supported by Chancellor Andrew Martin and Provost Beverly Wendland, and WashU formally joined Universities Studying Slavery at the end of Spring 2021. 

The WashU & Slavery Project is based in CRE2 to support integration across the institution, an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach, and related strategic plans of the center and other campus and community partners. The initial phase emphasizes research and teaching, including supported student research and creative projects, in close partnership with the university libraries, archives and museum. We will conduct foundational research, further organize and contextualize relevant collections in the university archives, libraries, and museum, create a digital project infrastructure, and facilitate an array of campus and community engagements. The project's scope and impact will grow through wide-ranging research, collaborative campus and regional efforts, and a reparative commitment. This website tracks the progress of our efforts, shares what we are learning, and invites members of the campus and broader community to participate in the WashU & Slavery Project.

Pictured: The courthouse in St. Louis photographed ca. 1861, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), a case that began in this St. Louis court in 1846. Founded in 1853, Washington University in St. Louis emerged in this historical and social context, its original campus within a mile of the court.

 

Many of WashU's early benefactors and officials were enslavers and connected to enterprises that profited from and sustained slavery. Ongoing research into university chancellors, directors and trustees whose lifetimes overlapped with the era of enslavement reveals that nearly half (31 of 66) had ties to the institution of slavery, as enslavers and members of slave-holding families, and through possible efforts to emancipate enslaved people. Over half of all trustees and faculty of the early medical school had some tie to enslavement, a figure likely to grow with further research.

―Dr. Kelly Schmidt Associate Director, WashU & Slavery
background image of featured news

Project Highlights

Foundations

We are revisiting connections between slavery and WashU's earliest leaders, including less recognized figures like John O'Fallon (1791-1865). A founding trustee and key benefactor, O'Fallon was one of the wealthiest men and largest slave holders in nineteenth century Missouri. Pictured: Colonel John O'Fallon Residence in O'Fallon Park, illustrated by Sallie O'Fallon, 1939 (Credit: Missouri Historical Society). 

Landscape Backstories of the WashU Campuses

WashU's campuses have occupied landscapes deeply connected to histories and legacies of empire and slavery in St. Louis. We are beginning to trace these connections and their implications.

Digitizing and Visualizing Records of Enslavement in St. Louis

Faculty and students are partnering to locate, digitize and visualize extensive records of slave ownership, manumission, self-liberation, and other information essential to understanding WashU's connections to slavery and its wake. A highlight here is the St. Louis Integrated Database of Enslavement (SLIDE), which makes historic Census and other key data searchable online.

More in Project News
Public humanities lab takes on reparative memory to uncover the legacy of slavery in Missouri

Public humanities lab takes on reparative memory to uncover the legacy of slavery in Missouri

Join Us

There are many ways for students, faculty and staff to participate in the WashU & Slavery Project, including funding opportunities, related courses and other teaching and learning opportunities, and project related events. For more information about ways to get involved, follow the link below.

Join Us