On reading the articles about Princeton’s deep associations with slavery, I wondered why white researchers dominated the narrative. Then I landed on a small but illuminating interview (“In Videos, Family Conversations”) with John Roderick Heller III ’59. He (white, corporate CEO) expresses embarrassment and disappointment that his ancestors were slaveholders, but adds: “I’ve never felt that the sins of fathers were visited on the descendants.” I wondered if he felt the same way about wealth and power accumulated by those fathers (on the backs of slaves) that have been so generously “visited” on their descendants? And if he is aware that descendants of slaves have had no such privileges “visited” on them?
This contradiction — moral regret by a University made wealthy by slavery and now planning an expansion that only mildly seeks to increase the “diversity of our students” (President’s Page, Nov. 8) — sits at the heart of this project. Will Princeton simply slough off slavery as a sin of its fathers, bringing in more “poor” students to assuage pangs of embarrassment, while strengthening the (covert) grip of slave-owners’ descendants on wealth and power?
As if to press home the message of respectability about visiting wealth on descendants, a full-page ad on the back cover of this issue (with a photo of three generations of white males) reminds us: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation.”
Come on, Princeton. Our institutional message should be much more robust: Slavery produced vast wealth and power for Princeton. Princeton must redress the balance by investing a very significant proportion of that wealth to empower young children, students, academics, and administrators of color — so that wealth and power be equitably visited on descendants of slaves and slave-owners alike.