A group a the University of Chicago is demanding that the school pay reparations to students whose families suffered as a result of slavery, because of the school’s historical ties to politician Stephen Douglas.
The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, or N’COBRA, held a “Rally for Reparations” on campus last Tuesday, according to The College Fix, demanding that administrators make amends for Douglas’s land grant, which he obtained using the profits from his “plantation.”
The students then took their cause to Chicago’s City Hall, where they held a press conference on the steps where they presented their official demands. N’COBRA was joined by several other progressive campus groups, including the Solidarity Committee for Graduate Students United, which seeks to overthrow the shackles of institutionalized academic labor.
“The University of Chicago is founded by slaveholders and the labor of enslaved people can actually be traced through the years,” said Guy Emerson Mount, one of the students involved. “The labor of enslaved people actually translates into buildings, endowments, and real hard material resources.”
The students aren’t necessarily advocating for the University of Chicago to cut them a check, but they do want to “establish a truth and reconciliation committee that would produce a comprehensive reparations program,” they told the Chicago student newspaper, the Maroon, and they want a Community Benefits Agreement that would give them a say in what sort of development happens in the University’s surrounding neighborhood.
They also say they’d like to review the University’s contracts for any contact with “slave policies,” including the University’s contract with the Chicago Police Department, which they say is designed to “keep people out rather than in.”
Although the students seem sure that the University of Chicago benefited from Douglas’s slaveholding, it’s not immediately clear whether Douglas actually owned any slaves (though his wife’s family did). He did advocate for the freedom to own slaves in newly-founded American territories and supported the “Dred Scott” decision, but also thought that the democratic process would eventually do away with the institution of slavery, and was firmly on the side of the Union in the Civil War.