Princeton Theological Seminary will set aside more than $25 million to pay reparations for its historical ties to slavery, thrusting the seminary to the forefront of a national debate over how America’s should reconcile with its slave-owning past.
Calling the payments an act of repentance, President M. Craig Barnes said in a statement Friday the seminary is “committed to telling the truth,” even though the seminary itself never owned slaves.
Founded in 1812, the seminary benefited from the slave economy through investments in Southern banks and from donors who profited from slavery. Its founding faculty and leaders used slave labor during their lifetime and some advocated for sending free black men and women to Liberia, according the seminary.
“The Seminary’s ties to slavery are a part of our story,” Barnes said. “It is important to acknowledge that our founders were entangled with slavery and could not envision a fully integrated society… We did not want to shy away from the uncomfortable part of our history and the difficult conversations that revealing the truth would produce.”
The seminary believes the $27.6 million amount is the most any college has pledged to pay through reparations, said Anne Stewart, vice president for external relations.
The payments will include offering 30 new scholarships, valued at the cost of tuition plus $15,000, for students who are descendants from slaves or from underrepresented groups. The seminary, unaffiliated with Princeton University, will also designate five doctoral fellowships for students who are descendants from slaves and hire a full-time director for the Center for Black Church Studies, among other initiatives.
The seminary will reserve the money from its $1 billion endowment to sustain the initiatives in perpetuity to achieve generational change.
“We are taking tangible action to write a new chapter in our story,” Barnes said.
The decision comes amid mounting pressures on America’s oldest education institutions to uncover, acknowledge and potentially pay for their ties to slavery.
Georgetown University students voted this year raise their own tuition to pay reparations to descendants of 272 enslaved Africans who were sold by Jesuits who ran the university. The Virginia Theological Seminary last month created a $1.7 million fund for reparations.
In New Jersey, both Rutgers and Princeton universities have commissioned and published reports detailing their historical ties to slavery, though they stopped short of paying reparations.
At the seminary, black seminarians had launched a petition calling for reparations.
Stewart said the decision was guided by the school’s theological mission and the framework of confession and repentance.
“The religious context had everything to do with it,” she said. “Repentance is not just about talk. It’s about action.”