Befitting a scholarly institution, Harvard’s 134-page report, which includes two appendices, is dense, detailed and even “shocking,” as the university’s president, Lawrence S. Bacow, said in an email announcing the initiative to students, faculty and staff.
It says that enslaved people were an “integral” part of the university in its early days. They lived in the president’s residence on the Cambridge, Mass., campus and were part of the fabric, almost invisible, of daily life.
“Enslaved men and women served Harvard presidents and professors and fed and cared for Harvard students,” the report says.
While New England’s image has been linked in popular culture to abolitionism, the report said, wealthy plantation owners and Harvard were mutually dependent.
“Well into the 19th century, the university and its donors benefited from extensive financial ties to slavery,” the report said. “These profitable financial relationships included, most notably, the beneficence of donors who accumulated their wealth through slave trading; from the labor of enslaved people on plantations in the Caribbean islands and in the American South; and from the Northern textile manufacturing industry, supplied with cotton grown by enslaved people held in bondage.”
In turn, the report said, the university profited from loans to Caribbean sugar planters, rum distillers and plantation suppliers, and from investments in cotton manufacturing.
Early attempts at integration met with stiff resistance from Harvard leaders, who prized being a school for the white upper crust, including wealthy white sons of the South, the report recounted.