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The namesake of Johns Hopkins University enslaved several. He was thought to be an abolitionist.

Chris Quintana, USA TODAY
·3 min read
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Johns Hopkins University, one of the nation’s premier universities with a top hospital system and medical school, is named for someone who enslaved at least four people, the school announced Wednesday.

The news is especially jarring given Hopkins was believed to have been an abolitionist.

The university plans to host a virtual town hall on Friday to discuss the revelation. The institution's leaders, President Ronald J. Daniels and the chiefs of the medical school and health system, lauded Hopkins' desire to create a university as well as a hospital to serve all in Baltimore regardless of "sex, age or race."

"But the fact that Mr. Hopkins had, at any time in his life, a direct connection to slavery — a crime against humanity that tragically persisted in the state of Maryland until 1864 — is a difficult revelation for us as we know it will be for our community, at home and abroad, and most especially our Black faculty, students, staff, and alumni," the leaders' statement read.

Daniels told the Washington Post he doesn't want to rename the university despite the new revelations. The university's goal is to "change our narrative, not our name."

Johns Hopkins, which is in Baltimore, is both a highly selective private university and a national leader in health care. The institution has also been tracking the coronavirus nationally. And its undergraduate students are admitted without consideration of their financial situation, knowing scholarships will cover their need thanks to a $1.8 billion gift in 2018 from Michael Bloomberg, an entrepreneur and politician who attended the university.

In its statement, the university said it had believed Hopkins to be an "early and staunch abolitionist whose father, a committed Quaker, had freed the family's enslaved people in 1807."

But new research revealed census records that indicated Hopkins enslaved at least one person in 1840 and four more in 1850. The 1860 census record showed no enslaved people in the Hopkins household. The university was founded in 1876 with a $7 million gift from Hopkins following his death.

The university said it didn't currently know the identities of the people who were enslaved. And leaders said it was also unclear why the university relied "so long on the narrative of Mr. Hopkins as an early and inveterate abolitionist, without fully investigating and verifying such claims."

The university is one of many American institutions grappling with the role of slavery on their campuses and in their founders' lives.

Many have joined the group known as Universities Studying Slavery. The consortium, housed at the University of Virginia, includes both private institutions such as Brown, Georgetown, Harvard and public schools such as the University of Georgia, the University of Mississippi and the University of North Carolina.

Enslaved labor built these universities: Now they are starting to repay the debt

Johns Hopkins said it would join that group too. It also said it would continue researching its founder's life and the people he enslaved.

"We are fully committed to continuing this research wherever it may lead and to illuminating a path that we hope will bring us closer to the truth," the statement read.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who was Johns Hopkins? Thought to oppose slavery, he enslaved people