The local descendants of slaves are applauding a nonbinding vote by Georgetown University undergraduates to provide restitution to the descendants of slaves sold to Louisiana plantations to pay off the school's debts nearly 200 years ago.
The measure, which must be approved by the Washington-D.C. based university to go into effect, would add a $27.20 per-semester fee to every student's tuition to create a charitable fund that would somehow benefit the living descendants of the 272 slaves.
Results of Thursday's referendum, released Friday by the university's Students Association Election Commission, show that 2,541 students, 66 percent of the votes cast, favored the "Reconciliation Contribution" and 1,304 opposed the measure.
"This was the first major reparations decision made, and it was done by millennials," said Maxine Crump, a former Baton Rouge television news anchorwoman and among the descendants of the slaves sold in 1838 by the Jesuits priests to pay off the Catholic institution's debts.
"Their social consciousness is high," Crump added. "They're willing to do it and believe the university should be stepping up and taking care of this."
Crump says more than 8,000 descendants have been identified within the past three years. Some of them have formed the GU272 Descendants Association, a grass-roots organization based in Baton Rouge that been working to connect descendants across the country.
Growing up in tiny Maringouin, Jessica Tilson often heard that everyone in town was somehow related.
Cheryllyn Branche, president of the GU272 association, in a separate statement said, "We see this as a valuable part of a much greater response to atonement and restitution for this nation’s history of slavery.
"We would hope that the sense of responsibility and commitment to putting the legacy of slavery behind us that has been shown by the students of Georgetown, will become a vision embraced by students at all of the slave holding institutions," Branche said.
Many of the descendants live in or have native roots Maringouin, the Iberville Parish town where many of the slaves were shipped to work on a local plantation. Other slaves were shipped to a plantation in Ascension Parish.
Todd Olson, the university's vice president for student affairs, released a statement Friday saying the students' nonbinding vote will "help to express important student perspectives" but does not create university policy.
"We value the engagement of our students and appreciate that they are making their voices heard and contributing to an important national conversation," Olson's statement reads. "We remain committed to working with students — regardless of the outcome of the referendum — to develop education and programming that will enable all students to meaningfully engage with Georgetown's history of slavery and support opportunities for collaboration between students and descendants."
Since news of the sale reached national prominence in 2016, the university has made strides to address the historic sale.
Georgetown University plans a series of in-person meetings in Louisiana and other parts of the country with descendants of the 272 slaves that…
In his statement Olson points out the first step the university made was a formal apology to the descendants before renaming two buildings on campus, one for Issac Hawkins, who is one of Crump's ancestors, and offering descendants legacy status in the university's admission process.
Georgetown President John DeGioia came to Louisiana in July 2016 to visit with descendants to share ideas about reconciliation.
"The University has done some good things but shied away from anything dealing with money in any real way," Crump said. "I'm proud of the statement that this makes to the country."
Shealeana Stewart grew up in Pass Christian, Mississippi, not knowing much about her family history.