Ebony & Ivy Book Review

Book Review by Kam Williams

There is no doubt that the histories of slavery, race, and higher education are connected. Slavery helped to build the most prestigious university campuses in the US – Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

In fact, these universities, and others, were entirely dependent on the slave trade. Higher learning, built on bondage.

The past has been whitewashed, and the fake super-clean image of the institutions has been used to bash opponents. The clean image, it turns out, is not at all deserved.

Excerpt from Foreword

This ecerpt from the Foreword on the book jacket tells this overview of this story and practically forces us to peek inside.

“Ebony & Ivy… delivers a groundbreaking and incendiary exploration of the intertwined histories of slavery, race, and higher education… Many of America’s revered colleges and universities… Harvard, Yale, and Princeton… were drenched in the sweat, the tears, and sometimes the blood of people of color…

Money from the purchase and sale of human beings built the campuses, stocked the libraries, and swelled the endowments of American colleges. Slaves waited on faculty and students; academic leaders eagerly courted the support of slaveholders and slave traders.

Ultimately, our leading universities were thoroughly dependent on enslavement and became breeding grounds for the racist ideas that sustained it. In short, the American academy never stood apart from American slavery – it stood beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on bondage.”

Craig Wilder by Jonathan Sachs
Craig Wilder. Photo by Jonathan Sachs via Kam Williams

Most people hold the Ivy League in high esteem as an exclusive oasis of intellectual thinking where one can acquire an excellent education. What they might not know is that its long-revered universities were also once intimately involved in slavery, depending on that evil institution for everything from funding to free labor.

Furthermore, places like Princeton served as a proving ground for the sons of plantation owners being trained in classes on slave management that:

“For Sullenness, Obstinancy, or Idleness… Take a Negro, strip him, tie him fast to a post; take then a sharp Curry-Comb, & curry him severely til he is well scrap’d; & call a boy with some dry Hay, and make the Boy rub him down for several Minutes, then salt him & unlose him.”

From inciting anti-abolitionist riots, to spearheading the back to Africa movement to teaching courses codifying the notion of white superiority, the Ivy League openly functioned as a subtle affirmation of slavery.” Despite the fact that it had played such a pivotal role in the creation and maintenance of a color-coded society, it would later put considerable effort into “cleansing the stain of human slavery from the story of its prosperity.”

Revising Ivy League History

This is the thesis of Craig Steven Wilder, as eloquently substantiated in Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History. A professor of history at MIT, Wilder’s painstakingly-researched opus uncovers the ugly underbelly of Ivy League and other Colonial era colleges like Rutgers and Williams.

The author goes on to point out how, after the Civil War, “some of the best-educated people in the nation were revising history to romanticize and sanitize their relationship to bondage. They erased their pasts as masters or reimagined their slaves as a lower order of adopted family – trusted, faithful, and beloved servants whom they had treated with dignity and human sympathy.”

Yankee academia is now exposed as a former bastion of Southern aristocracy. The history we all know and love may be largely untrue.

To order a copy of Ebony & Ivy: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1596916818/ref%3dnosim/smallbusin0f7-20

Ebony & Ivy

Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities

By Craig Steven Wilder

Bloomsbury Press

Hardcover, $30.00

432 pages

ISBN: 978-1-59691-681-4

Kam Williams
Kam Williams is a popular and top NewsBlaze reviewer, our chief critic. Kam gives his unvarnished opinion on movies, DVDs and books, plus many in-depth and revealing celebrity interviews.Sadly, Lloyd Kam Williams passed away in 2019, leaving behind a huge body of work focused on America's black entertainment community. We were as sad to hear of his passing as we were overjoyed to have him as part of our team.