Washington University has portrayed its co-founder as an abolitionist - he wasn't
History books highlight his role in co-founding Washington University as paramount, but they don’t question his anti-slavery views. Eliot was a pre-Civil War-era man, but the long-held belief that he was an abolitionist is nothing more than a myth that Eliot's own writings disprove. Eliot was opposed to abolition, and he supported the idea of colonization.
A team of Washington University students and faculty recently uncovered this long-forgotten history while exploring Eliot’s legacy. Iver Bernstein, professor of history and African and African American studies at the university, is co-teaching the course Rethinking Wash U's Relationship to Enslavement: Past, Present, and Future. Earlier, this year, Wash U joined Universities Studying Slavery, a consortium of more than 80 colleges and universities. The course is an extension of that effort.
Students took a hands-on approach with the research that eventually led to a detailed article in the university’s independent student newspaper Student Life.
Nkemjika Emenike, a teaching assistant for the course and a history major at Wash U, was one of several students who co-authored the article about their findings. Her co-authors are Adam Teich, Aidan Smyth, Cecilia Wright and Detric Henderson.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Marissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with Emenike and Bernstein on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air about who Eliot really was.