As our national consciousness has awoken to the lasting legacy of slavery and the importance of understanding our history, so too has Visitation's. In September 2016, we embarked on a journey to more fully understand our past. We began a special Monastery and school joint project: The History of Enslaved People at Georgetown Visitation: Learning, Reflecting, and Teaching, sponsored by the St. Jane de Chantal Salesian Center.
The shadow of slavery is long. Even today, more than 150 years after emancipation, we see evidence of the deep wounds slavery has left on us as a nation. In shedding light on this difficult part of our history, we hope to learn how we can not only ensure our community is welcoming and inclusive, but also make our world more equitable and just. Our goals are to:
- Recognize the contributions of enslaved people to our school,
- Research the history of enslaved people at Georgetown Visitation;
- Foster dialogue about our history and the difficult questions it raises; and
- Encourage critical thinking, reflection, prayer, and action within our school and Monastery community.
Since its inception, the steering committee overseeing this project has been working to expand our body of research, determine how best to share this history, and discern how we move forward. We undertake this work with honesty and humility, always seeking to restore the dignity and honor the humanity of the individuals who were enslaved at Georgetown Visitation.
The fact that the Sisters of the Visitation owned slaves is in both of our published histories, but this chapter of our history has been largely unexplored until recently. When the Salesian Center was founded in May 2016, we were able to hire Dr. Susan Nalezyty, an experienced historian, to serve as our full-time School Archivist. Since the fall of 2016, she has been researching Georgetown Visitation's enslaved community, drawing on documents assembled by Monastery Archivist, Sr. Mada-anne Gell, VHM, as well as public sources.
The research report Dr. Nalezyty has prepared expands our understanding of Visitation’s history by:
- Expanding on previous research using documents found in the Monastery Archives and public documents; and
- Elucidating the architectural history of the oldest buildings on campus, using previously unpublished archival material.
To date, we have identified, either by name or by brief description, 107 enslaved people owned by the Sisters of the Visitation between 1800 and 1862. Care has been taken to cross-reference evidence to avoid double counting. Wherever possible, individuals have been traced following emancipation using documentary evidence.
Despite the diligent work of our archivists and the committee, there are some questions that may never be answered. However, careful study of the documentary evidence gives us a window into the community in its early years.
The release of this report is only the beginning of our work "Learning, Reflecting, and Teaching." We plan to engage our campus community to help us:
- Incorporate this substantial primary research into our ongoing study and interpretation of this school's long and rich history;
- Integrate this history and related social justice content into our curricular and co-curricular offerings;
- Understand how this new information impacts our community;
- Identify opportunities for reflection and reconciliation; and
- Identify ways we can make our community more inclusive.
One of our Salesian Little Virtues is honesty; we are committed to openness and transparency as we move forward together. We will continue to work humbly and prayerfully with our community to take what we have learned and translate it into action that will strengthen our school and improve the world in which we live.
Read the Self-Study Report
Read the Article Published in U.S. Catholic Historian