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HomeGeneralSlavery Descendants Seek $70 Billion in Reparations From Saint Louis University

Slavery Descendants Seek $70 Billion in Reparations From Saint Louis University

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A civil rights attorney is representing hundreds of Black Americans whose ancestors helped build Saint Louis University during slavery. They have demanded $70 billion in reparations for years of free labor.

Attorney Areva Martin announced the reconciliation package on February 8 at Missouri University’s Busch Student Center. There, she and other prominent community members pressured the University to pay the arrears and avoid a potential lawsuit. 

Martin spoke on behalf of 200 descendants of Henrietta Mills and Charles Chauvin. They were a slave couple, and it was their forced labor that helped to construct the Victorian-esque campus beginning in the late 1820s.

The call for reparations comes from a grassroots effort by the Descendants of the St. Louis University Enslaved. They are a powerful nonprofit group in St. Louis that focuses on preserving the legacy of their enslaved forefathers.

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“We’re not asking for a handout,” said DSLUE president Robin Proudie, also a descendant of slaves owned by SLU. “We’re asking for their debt to be paid.” They estimate that $365 million is due for the 24 hours of labor per day, 365 days per year, by 70 slaves from 1823 to 1865.

At a February 8 press briefing to demand the payout, Proudie expressed hope that the compensation effort in St. Louis would inspire a broader reparations movement across the nation. “We decided as a family that we would stand up not only for us but for all of the enslaved descendants of those who built this country,” Proudie said.

Nearly a decade ago, Saint Louis University conducted a thorough examination of its historical ties to slavery. That led to the 2016 publication of the report titled “Slavery, History, Memory, and Reconciliation Project.”

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“That report revealed that Jesuits forcefully relocated slaves from Maryland in 1823 to St. Louis specifically to exploit their stolen labor and skills to build Saint Louis University,” Martin said.

In 2019, the university and catholic order of priests revealed to the descendants that their ancestors worked at various locations. These include the first Jesuit mission in Missouri, St. Stanislaus, and other local schools, churches, and farms. The slaves worked between 1823 and 1865.

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Not long after, they put together a committee to divine a way forward. The committee temporarily halted its work during the global pandemic but reconvened in 2021.

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According to economist Julianne Malveaux, the total compensation should be around $70 billion, plus 200 years’ worth of interest. This would represent the substantial value of the enslaved labor in today’s dollars.

According to Malveaux, the calculations and methods they came up with are honest. “The university, quite frankly, is overdue, negligent, and wrong,” Malveaux believes. State Sen. Karla May has also put pressure on the University to do the right thing. She pointed out how we repeat past mistakes by erasing the truth.

“The lives of the enslaved people, those who were taken from Maryland and brought to St. Louis, those lives must be acknowledged,” she said. The university has said it is too early to respond to the demand. But that it shares the same resolve about the matter.

“SLU’s participation in the institution of slavery was a grave sin. We acknowledge that progress on our efforts to reconcile with this shameful history has been slow, and we regret the hurt and frustration this has caused,” the University’s statement said. 

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“Continuing this work is a priority for SLU and the Society of Jesus. As we move forward, we hope to re-establish and build deeper relationships with all descendant families, to explore together how best to honor the memory of those who were enslaved by the Jesuits.”

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