February 12, 2024
Descendants of Slaves Who Built St. Louis University Calculate They Are Owed $74 Billion Dollars
Talk about a pay day!
The descendants of enslaved Black people responsible for the building of a Missouri-based university are requesting the amount of stolen labor – and it is in the billions.
Descendants of the St. Louis University Enslaved have calculated the school’s stolen labor is worth as much as $74 billion. On Feb. 8, the group reached out to St. Louis University, formerly Jesuit University, to follow up on commitments made in 2016. The Slavery, History, Memory, and Reconciliation Project found the institution used beatings and family separation as a form of harsh punishment.
Between 1823 and 1865, universities in Missouri borrowed, rented, and owned close to 200 enslaved Black people. Three enslaved families from the White Marsh Plantation in Maryland were removed in 1823 and delivered to Florissant. Those same people helped build the St. Stanislaus seminary and plantation. More slaves arrived from Maryland in 1829 – the same year the Jesuits took over St. Louis College – later becoming St. Louis University, where some enslaved people were forced to work.
Areva Martin, attorney for the descendants, said the amount of money doesn’t include the pain and suffering of Henrietta Mills Chauvin and other enslaved Black people who assisted with building the school.
“We do know that providing this valuation gives us a starting point to start talking about reconciliation,” Martin said.
“It starts with recognizing your obligation to discord even a fraction of the value of their ancestors’ labor that was used to build this storied institution.”
Lynette Jackson found out she was the great-great-great granddaughter of Mills Chauvin in 2019. She said she often feels the wrong endured by her ancestors when she drives by SLU and wants the wrongs corrected – including removing the statues built by the enslaved people.
“It just makes me feel sad that they had to go through this and knowing that it was the church involved as well, and we helped to build the church, you wouldn’t think that a church would do this,” Jackson said.
Democratic state Senator Karla May has worked with the group for access to this opportunity. May says now is the time for SLU to do the right thing.
“St. Louis University has a chance to do something positive by properly acknowledging the tragic history,” May said. “The beginning of trying to make this right is saying the names of the enslaved so that we may never forget them.”
University spokesperson Clayton Berry is still preparing a detailed response based on the information provided.
“At this point, we can affirm that we understand and share the sense of urgency expressed by several members of the descendant community,” Berry said. “We acknowledge that progress on our efforts to reconcile with this shameful history has been slow, and we regret the hurt and frustration this has caused.”
However, the statement concluded with a promise of continuing to work towards reconciliation with the descendant families.