On Dec. 14, the University of New Orleans' Ethel & Herman L. Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies marks its 25th anniversary with a special program devoted to the local legacies of the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved people by the leaders of Georgetown University to purchasers in Louisiana. Hosted by The Historic New Orleans Collection, the event will be the first Louisiana-based conversation between historians and descendants of the enslaved community displaced by the sale. "Sold South: Tracing a Jesuit Slave Community from Maryland to Louisiana," will bring together two descendants who have recently learned the details about their slave ancestors, with historian Adam Rothman, professor of history at Georgetown and member of Georgetown's Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation. The conversation will be moderated by UNO Professor Emeritus Raphael Cassimere.
What: “Sold South: Tracing a Jesuit Slave Community from Maryland to Louisiana,” A program in honor of the 25th Anniversary of UNO’s Ethel & Herman L. Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies.
When: Dec. 14, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
Where:The Historic New Orleans Collection’s Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St., New Orleans
Tickets: Tickets are no longer available, but the event will be livestreamed via the Midlo Center’s Facebook page.
In 1838, the Jesuit leaders of Georgetown sold 272 enslaved people to two Louisiana planters, displacing the community from Maryland to plantations in the Deep South. It was an historic sale, forever altering the lives of the enslaved children, men and women and their descendants while propping up what at the time was a financially struggling Catholic institution: Georgetown University.
For decades, the sale remained buried in archives, a silent and invisible history of one of the country’s greatest educational institutions, a legacy unknown to those whose Louisiana roots are traceable to the enslaved community from Maryland. But today, thanks to the work of descendants, historians, and genealogists, and with the support of Georgetown’s current leadership, this story and its significance has reached the public. While the Georgetown story has received both national and local media coverage, the descendants from Louisiana have not yet had the opportunity to speak directly about this history with their local community. “Sold South” is an event that will allow Louisiana residents to discuss and engage this story and its local importance.
Cheryllyn Branche, a retired Catholic school principal from New Orleans, learned in May through the Georgetown Memory Project that her maternal grandmother’s father and grandparents were among those sold south to keep Georgetown afloat. They were sold to Louisiana’s former governor, Henry Johnson, who owned the Ascension Plantation, later called Chatham Plantation, in Ascension Parish. Though Branche was close with her maternal grandmother, Louise Ford Rogers—a devoted Catholic who lived a block and a half from the church she attended daily—she says Rogers never talked about slavery.
“She spoke of the Depression and how she and my grandfather survived,” Branche wrote in a September op-ed in The New York Times, “but she did not go further back in time to acknowledge her previously enslaved father, whose own parents had been enslaved and sold by the Jesuits.”
Sandra Green Thomas knew about her great-grandfather, William Harris, who was born into slavery. But it wasn’t until she read a story in The New York Times this year that she began to piece together the details of his history using Georgetown's online slavery archive. It was a stunning revelation: “In the mid-1990s,” she wrote in the Times in May. “I lived within walking distance of Georgetown. I was pushing my babies around in a stroller, going on campus, without knowing anything about the connection.”
UNO historian Mary Niall Mitchell, co-director of the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies and the Ethel & Herman L. Midlo endowed chair, said the roundtable conversation is a natural reflection of the Midlo Center’s mission to promote understanding of New Orleans history, particularly civil rights. The Center was a contributor last year to The Historic New Orleans Collection’s heralded exhibition, “Purchased Lives: New Orleans and the Domestic Slave Trade,” which examined New Orleans’ role in the domestic slave trade from 1808 to 1865, when one million enslaved people were forced to migrate from the Upper South to the Lower South. The collaboration was so successful, it opened the door to continue this conversation about the legacy of slavery in New Orleans, the largest slave market in antebellum America.
The “Sold South” program will also include a 15-minute pre-recorded oral history with Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, daughter of the founders of the Midlo Center and a pathbreaking historian of slavery in Louisiana. Midlo Hall was one of the first scholars to mine local courthouses and archives to find stories of the lives of enslaved people.
“Historians need to do more, and generally as a society we haven’t done enough, to address the legacies of chattel slavery,” Mitchell said. “This is not just African-American history—this is the nation’s history. This event is just one part of a larger effort by Louisiana’s citizens and cultural institutions like The Historic New Orleans Collection to come to terms with the central role slavery played in the state’s past.”
Tickets for this event are no longer available, but the program will be livestreamed on the web through the Midlo Center’s Facebook page. The event is co-sponsored by The Historic New Orleans Collection, the Georgetown Alumni Association, and The University of New Orleans.
For press inquiries, contact Adam Norris, chief communications officer at the University of New Orleans, firstname.lastname@example.org and (504) 280-6939.