(image/Elijah Lovejoy)

Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) is one of the first among free-standing seminaries to join with the some fifty U.S. institutions of higher education that are currently conducting research into their embeddedness in the historical institution and practices of slavery (the “Universities Studying Slavery” project, USS). This research now has borne fruit in several reports. In this monograph, I am responding to the reports from Princeton University, Georgetown University and William & Mary, which supplement my response’s primary concern here with the PTS report.[1]

These reports are not just acts of erudite scholarship. They are and should be that. Yet they also variously affirm or invoke interests that are often religious and moral, and implicitly political, social, racial, personal and economic as well. These interests show themselves in the assumptions at work in the interpretive schema that frame and guide the research. I call these schema “paradigms.” These paradigms shape the way the reports are organized, how they highlight key themes, and how they do or do not express certain values in the task of researching their schools’ roots in slavery.

What are the paradigms at work in these reports? Section 1 below shows how the reports operate largely within a paradigm I term Reconciliatory Transaction. This first valuable paradigm, however, should be situated within another paradigm that envelops it. This enveloping and alternative paradigm for interpretation is what I call an Abolition Struggle Paradigm.

 “. . . my major argument . . .”

Indeed, precisely here is my major argument: this reconciliatory transaction paradigm, as valuable as it is, should be consciously developed within the abolition struggle paradigm, one that does not negate the reconciliatory paradigm, but which envelops it, grounds it and shows the significance of our research into PTS’s relation to slavery’s legacy. 

Section 2 shows how this abolition struggle paradigm makes two important contributions to research for the “institutions that are studying slavery.” The next two sections will then clarify what are the distinctive contributions of such a paradigm.

Section 3 argues that an Abolition Struggle Paradigm makes a first contribution by enabling scholars to re-frame their work, so that this research might be viewed as an “insurrection of subjugated knowledges.” I use this latter phrase not simply to give this work a cumbersome Foucauldian rendering (the phrase is from philosopher Michel Foucault). More importantly, the phrase helps us clarify the relation of this scholarly work to the struggles of people who have birthed the conceptual work.

Section 4 will show the second contribution to be one of broadening our vision of what has to be resisted if we are serious about redressing slavery’s legacy today. This broadening vision I will show to be consistent with abolitionist vision and practice. This section will show how taking seriously the legacy of slavery means fighting not only white supremacy’s distinctive generation-spanning mode of subjugation, but also white supremacy’s entailment with other modes of subjugation: capitalist exploitation of land and labor, U.S. nationalist imperialism, hegemonic masculinism, and a regime of Christian supremacy.

“the legacy of slavery means fighting not only white supremacy’s distinctive generation-spanning mode of subjugation, but also white supremacy’s entailment with other modes of subjugation: capitalist exploitation of land and labor, U.S. nationalist imperialism, hegemonic masculinism, and a regime of Christian supremacy.”

The house that slavery built leaves PTS and the United States (and much of the globe) wrestling with this matrix of mutually-entangled modes of subjugation. Thus, I will also propose, briefly in this essay, that PTS found, substantively fund and staff and then sustain for the long term a Princeton Abolition Policy Center (PAPC). The PAPC would guide and catalyze research and action – locally, nationally and globally – to work with social movements, churches, religious communities and others. Its purpose would be to change governance and structural practices that would counter creatively the daunting assemblage of subjugating structures that constitute slavery’s legacy today. This would be a way to honor the nationally prominent legacy of PTS graduates Theodore Sedgwick Wright and Elijah Lovejoy, abolitionist alums whose sacrifices and labor are exemplary and precedent-setting for Princeton Seminary’s continuing of abolitionist struggle in our own time. (PTS Masters graduate, James Reeb, martyred at Selma in 1965, and Prathia Hall, visionary activist of the SNCC and PTS Ph.D. graduate, are also part of this struggle to abolish white supremacy.)

Finally, in the “Conclusion” I take seriously a recent student call by Princeton Seminarians for restitution and reparations for slavery. Reflection on this call becomes the essay’s means of summarizing what might be institutions’ better ways today of redressing slavery’s legacy, and explains at somewhat more length, why I propose something like the PAPC.

In this “Introduction” permit me two preliminary points about abolition, and then a brief word on the way we who conduct this research are already entangled in the subject-matter we would study. My brief introductory words about abolition are offered to correct some frequently found misinterpretations of abolitionist movements. First, abolitionism was not simply the fruit of liberal reformers of middle and upper white classes. When I write of abolition and abolitionism I mean slave resistance organizing to abolish slavery. Thus, “slave resistance, not bourgeois liberalism, lay at the heart of the abolition movement.”[2]

“slave resistance, not bourgeois liberalism, lay at the heart of the abolition movement”

Black activists and resisters played crucial roles, not just the renown white abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Lydia Maria Child joining with Frederick Douglass. White abolitionists were significant, but we must also recall the catalyzing work of black women organizers, for example, Maria Stewart, Sarah Mapps Douglass, Sarah Louise Forten and Jarena Lee.”[3] Second, as these 19th century abolitionist writers themselves emphasized in their times, abolition struggle against slavery was about more than fighting white supremacy. It meant a resistance also to U.S. imperialism, economic exploitation, Christian supremacy and women’s subjugation.

The other introductory point also needs making, about the researchers’ relation to their subject-matter. None of us, especially U.S. higher education, in theological or other fields, is free from being entangled in the webs that slavery and white supremacy have spun. None is free from embeddedness in the material and symbolic structural legacy of slavery’s hydra-headed, multi-layered, generation-spanning apparatus. Certainly, I as white tenured Princeton Seminary faculty member am not outside the very problem we analyze.

The interpretive schema, the paradigms that we researchers use (consciously or unconsciously) are often shaped by the ways we are often already entangled in the phenomena we are researching. If I am here arguing for an Abolition Struggle Paradigm this is because in part – and I stress only in part – it is this paradigm that enables me to address what I sense to be the full complexity of my own entanglement in the legacy of slavery.

When beginning research of our institutions into slavery, a reminder from Antonio Gramsci may be especially important. Gramsci advised, “The starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and . . .’knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, [but] without leaving an inventory.” Often not mentioned in English translations of this passage, however, is Gramsci’s telling conclusion in the Italian: “therefore, it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory.”[4]

“The starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and .   .   . ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, [but] without leaving an inventory.” – Antonio Gramsci

I cannot here elaborate my own critical inventory, nor is it the purpose of this essay to do so. But in order to show how an inventory might open up into the tangled history of slavery and its afterlives, I offer a few quick references to my own history.

  • Since age 5, and then for sometimes lengthy periods since, I have been part of an anthropologist father’s family, which placed me amidst both intercultural exchanges and political contradictions integral to a Euro-american family’s racialized research among Zapotec and Maya peoples in Central America.
  • For 38 years I have been salaried as a professor at Princeton Seminary
  • For 4 years I was a PhD student at the Rockefeller founded and funded
    University of Chicago
  • For the 3 years preceding I was a seminary student at Union Seminary,
    Richmond Virginia, capitol of the Confederacy, where I also interned in the racialized Virginia State Penitentiary
  • From my youth I am descended from a paternal line stretching into Lee County, Virginia
  • My paternal grandfather became a successful Oregon rancher in the land of the Umatilla and Nez Perce, and his successes on Western lands eventually led him from there to Washington, D.C. to work in President Truman’s Agriculture Department and on the Federal Reserve Board. Thus, he helped mobilize agricultural production and finance policy for the post-World War II global capital of America.
  • On my mother’s side I am a third generation descendent of Norwegian immigrants. Their at least “moderate” anti-blackness secured their whiteness in early 20th century America amidst and against communities of color in Detroit, Michigan. From these communities they later took “white flight” to the suburbs. This grandfather also had anchored his immigrant family’s whiteness as World War I wounded veteran at Verdun and later as a patrolman at the U.S./Canada border.
  • My father and both grandfathers were all military veterans who mixed reverence for nation with devotion to Americans’ evangelical God. My parents had been sent to Wheaton College. My grandparents and parents to the end of their days fused their dual loyalty to God and nation by thrilling to the hymns of U.S. military chorales.
  • Since the 1970s amidst my prison activism work, inside and outside of prisons I have been challenged to reflect ever anew on my historical, social, political and theological assumptions about U.S. racialized imprisonment.
  • Since the 1980s I have been conducting my own research as an adult in Central America, wrestling with U.S. politics of race, class and empire in Guatemala and Mexico.

Maybe points of reference of this sort confirms the wisdom shown by a faculty colleague here at Princeton. She suggested that today’s predominantly white faculty and administrators might begin studying our institution’s slavery legacy by unearthing our own white families’ roots in slavery. Limiting ourselves to this, though, would leave too narrow a scope for our study, risking only a family-heritage lens on slavery, masking slavery’s social, political, economic dimensions, both national and international. Yet a compiled “inventory” of personal and family histories found in an institution might make for a fruitful beginning. It can guide understanding of our institutions’ relation to slavery, giving our research greater concreteness, perhaps also a richer complexity. It should certainly stem researchers’ tendencies to make charges against others as if we were not always and already part of “the problem.” A critical humility thus can infuse our deliberations. But now, consider the two paradigms that I find most relevant to the slave reports and their subject matter.


The Reconciliatory Transaction Paradigm is discernible in most of the reports, certainly in in those of Princeton Seminary and Georgetown University, which have strong and continuing religious underpinnings. It is the interpretive paradigm that is at work in most of the reports. This paradigm features a definite rhythm, one that moves between accounts of egregious promotion or accommodation of slavery, on the one hand, and some attempted redress, on the other. The reports from institutions are still steeped in their founding theological discourses, making of this rhythm a kind of theological two-step. With a first step, there is confession of sin and wrong; then a second step of repentance and consideration of actions of redress. In other terms, the rhythm is between courageous “truth telling” about institutions’ entailment in slavery, on the one hand, and then “reconciliation” as restorative words and practices, on the other. Consider some examples of the truth telling that were noted at 2019 conference.

“From Princeton Seminary’s report, we learn (a) of faculty members who owned one or more slaves, (b) of trustees who did so as well . . .”

From Princeton Seminary’s report, we learn (a) of faculty members who owned one or more slaves, (b) of trustees who did so as well, (c) of students, some 23 who fought for or supported the Confederate Army (some as military chaplains), (d) of a whole seminary of faculty, trustees, donors and students who – with a few notable exceptions – supported the American Colonization Society (ACS), and thus the relocation of thousands of African persons back to Africa; (e) of the entire seminary’s financial wealth, donations and endowment being sourced in unfree slave labor, or in the financial systems made possible by slave labor. PTS’s vigorous and decades-long support of the ACS is especially lamented by the report, but notes also that a few PTS graduates were abolitionists and rejected colonization. In its vigorously organized anti-abolitionism, the ACS position functioned as de facto support of slavery even if colonizationists often denounced slavery theologically.[5]

From Princeton University’s report we learn (a) about slavery as part of the academic landscape whereby slaves worked nearby farms, carried wood to dorm rooms, lived at the President’s house where slaves were even sold after the fifth President of the College of New Jersey (today “Princeton University”) died in 1766, (b) about the violent encounters between students from southern slave-holding families (60% at one point) when they came into contact with free blacks in Princeton, and (c) about the “dilemmas of morally-tainted money” at Princeton University. Regarding money, the University report, however, does not examine the flow of wealth from slave-holders to its institution as does the Princeton Seminary report.

From William & Mary’s report, we learn of many historical developments which confirm with summary statements that (a) most elite white males were slave-holders, and (b) that William & Mary could not have existed without the labor of the enslaved.

Finally, from Georgetown’s report, also complemented by a still-growing online research report, we find a particularly unsettling story. It is the account of the “GU272.” These are the 272 slaves who in 1838 were sold to Louisiana from a Georgetown University building. The purpose of the sale was to bail-out the college at a time of financial stress, with a final sale of $115,000 (some $3.3 millions worth, today).

I might add here some of the truth-telling in a study at Rutgers University. It was not represented at the Seminary conference, but can be accessed at the USS website.[6] It includes truth-telling about how slave-holding elites took over lands of Lenni Lenape indigenous peoples. Rutgers’ study seems one of the few reports, if not the only one, that focuses on higher education’s entailment in the dispossession of Indian lands. This is important because that indigenous dispossession was the necessary condition for the institution, maintenance and expansion of slavery. Indian lands were needed for the “civilization” of slavery to arise. Indian peoples were the necessary absence for U.S. slavery.[7]

“Indian lands were needed for the “civilization” of slavery to arise. Indian peoples were the necessary absence for U.S. slavery.”

But the truth-telling from these schools is only one part of the two-step rhythm. The other second step in the Reconciliatory Transaction Paradigm is usually found in the concluding parts of the reports calling for reconciliation or some search for redress. The Princeton University report is something of an exception. As Dr. Sandweiss points out about her research at Princeton, its report is not motivated by such a penchant for moral redress. Sandweiss lifts this up as both a problem, but also as a kind of advantage. The disadvantage is the lack of a moral framework; the advantage is that research energies could be given more to meticulous documentation of what the past actually held regardless of what the moral violations or virtues might have been.

At the other schools, various acts of reconciliation and redress are mentioned. For most reports, the very attempt to undertake truth-telling research, to attempt exposé, is seen as redress. Unmasking is seen as not only prelude to reconciliation but as reconciliation itself. “Acknowledgment” is seen as restorative. All the reports point toward extensive public display of their truth-telling with detailed and attractive web sites.[8]

One type of proactive reconciliation is that of memorialization. Sometimes this means listing the names of previously enslaved persons in the community on plaques and commemorative sites. Buildings are renamed, as at Georgetown where the site of the GU272 sale was changed in 2015 from Mulledy Hall to Freedom Hall, and then to Isaac Hawkins Hall in 2017. Hawkins was a slave sold by Georgetown with the other 272.[9] The entire project of remembrance and research at William & Mary is named for one of its past slaves, “Lemon” – thus “The Lemon Project at William & Mary.”[10] Walking-tours are organized at several schools to trace slave heritages on campuses and in their communities.

A particularly striking example of redress and restoration is evident in the Princeton Seminary report. It makes mention of numerous critics of slavery. Nineteenth century faculty and administrators wrote and spoke, theologically or intellectually against slavery, but supported the ACS and repression of abolitionism.[11] But the Seminary report also points out two of the very few abolitionist students at Princeton, Theodore S. Wright and Elijah Lovejoy. Wright was a leading abolitionist of national prominence, the first black graduate of PTS, pastor of the largest U.S. black church in the U.S. He was a leading anti-slavery preacher, educator and writer. Wright suffered physical and emotional abuse on the Princeton Seminary campus and his wife died from overexposure to inclement weather, being made with other blacks to stand outside on a ship voyage to NYC.

“In the PTS report, the remembrance of Wright and Lovejoy stand as important exemplars, but they are not developed as such in the report. There is no lament, for example, for the Seminary’s failure to support abolitionists.”

Lovejoy was an evangelical pastor and publisher. He was killed in 1837 in Ohio after leaving Princeton Seminary in 1834, remembered as a martyr for his abolitionist pamphleteering and publishing.[12] In the PTS report, the remembrance of Wright and Lovejoy stand as important exemplars, but they are not developed as such in the report. There is no lament, for example, for the Seminary’s failure to support abolitionists. Even today, the Theodore Sedgwick Wright room in the new library of the Seminary is only a small room on the lower level, tucked behind the central column. Notable, too, is the fact that the major memorialization of Lovejoy is a plaque on the front of today’s Mckay Campus Center, but it only states “In Memory of Elijah Parish Lovejoy” and “First Martyr for the Freedom of the Press. Died Protecting his Printing Press from Mob Attack.” There is nothing about slavery or about Lovejoy’s abolitionism.

The reconciliatory “transactions” considered in the second move of this first paradigm is not mainly, certainly not only, a commercial one.  There are a variety of steps proposed. Recall, there are memorials and the renaming of buildings, erecting statues, fixing of plaques, holding liturgies, or making formal apologies. Both Georgetown and Princeton Seminary have decided upon or are considering some kind of tuition aid for descendants of slaves.[13] Rites of remembrance, too, expressing contrition are also often key interactive practices are also mentioned.

Since the next and second section offers another distinguishable type of paradigm, that of Abolition Struggle, I want to make sure that I am not heard as proposing that it replaces the first paradigm. Restoring, repairing, financial investments and transactions, confession and atonement – all these reconciliatory actions are necessary. I suggest, however, that they are not sufficient. These reconciliatory transactions need to be understood within the perspective of another paradigm.


In the Abolition Struggle Paradigm, as in the first paradigm, the great suffering and injustice of slavery is recognized and so also is a contemporary need to redress the wrong, to make restoration. In this Paradigm, however, something more also becomes visible and demands consideration. This is the history of enslaved peoples’ fight-back against slavery and then its descendants’ resistance to its legacy.

“It is the legacy of this slave resistance – of ‘the slave’s cause’ of abolition – that makes available in our present a historical consciousness that is explicitly or implicitly, present in descendants of slaves.”

It is the legacy of this slave resistance – of “the slave’s cause” of abolition – that makes available in our present a historical consciousness that is explicitly or implicitly, consciously or unconsciously, present in descendants of slaves. Sometimes it persists too in the memories and fears that haunt even some descendants from the slave-holding classes.[14] I am proposing that this historical consciousness (of both slavery and resistance to it) is what gives rise to and animates an interpretive drive that can become a paradigm for the ways we research our institutions’ pasts in slavery.

The importance of slaves’ resistance is emphasized across several works, but especially, again, in Sinha’s 2016 book, The Slave’s Cause. “The history of abolition begins with those who resisted slavery at its inception.”[15]  Abolition was thus radical, a going to the roots of struggle by those whose lives were most at stake. If abolition also became an inter-racial struggle – with whites likes William Lloyd Garrison and Lydia Marie Child joining with Frederick Douglass. Black women were often key, and originary creators of abolition movements. Prominent are such names as Maria Stewart, Sarah Mapps Douglass, Sarah Louise Forten and Jarena Lee.[16] Again, “slave resistance, not bourgeois liberalism” birthed and sustained abolitionism.[17] Toward the end of her book, Sinha poignantly notes, “With his issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Lincoln was well on his way to becoming the Great Emancipator, and abolitionists who had agitated so long for emancipation, the forgotten emancipationists. The slaves themselves lay forgotten as the architects of their own liberation.”[18]

If we remember this essential point, and reframe our contemporary truth-telling and reconciliatory acts within an Abolition Struggle Paradigm, then two important consequences come forth. First, our institutional research for both truth-telling and reconciliation can be seen as belonging to the historical struggle of the enslaved for their own abolition. Our research is indebted to and often prompted by their abolition struggle and resistance. Second, this way of reframing our institutional attempts at truth-telling and reconciliation, prompts our reconciliatory work to move beyond reformism and toward a more comprehensive revolutionary thinking and practice. With this second contribution, our reconciliatory work becomes as broad and variegated as were the visions and stratagems of antebellum abolitionists themselves.


Consider a notion from philosopher Michel Foucault, especially from his writing about “the insurrection of subjugated knowledges.” Foucault identifies two kinds of subjugated knowledge. These are “buried knowledge” and “disqualified knowledge.”[19] Abolition struggle rooted in slave resistance would issue in an unburying and a re-qualifying of these subjugated knowledges. Consider each in turn.

Buried knowledge is a type that is often allowed to sit in the bowels of an institution, lost there, even repressed. This knowledge is hidden, but hidden in and masked by the very dynamics of processes at work in educational institutions, in what Foucault terms “formal systematizations.”[20] Examples of such formal systematization are the numerous discourses we have about curricula, course planning, faculty and administrative committee work and national conferences. Buried knowledge among Princeton Seminary’s “formal systematizations” may hide more than slavery issues. There is, for another example, the still largely un-studied work of PTS graduate and Presbyterian missionary, Sheldon Jackson.

“As a Presbyterian missionary  . . . He [Rev. Sheldon Jackson] was a participant in settler colonial cultural genocide. He was an overseer of Indian boarding schools charged with the tasks of “civilizing” indigenous children and youth. The abuses within and of these schools are well known.”

As a Presbyterian missionary he worked throughout  the Rocky Mountains and most intensively in Alaska. He would become Alaska’s Secretary of Education (working closely with officials in Washington, D.C.). He was a collector of Indian artifacts that he often sent back to East coast museums. He was a participant in settler colonial cultural genocide.[21] He was an overseer of Indian boarding schools charged with the tasks of “civilizing” indigenous children and youth. The abuses within and of these schools are well known. [22] The letters of Sheldon Jackson are in the PTS archives and Rare Books Collection.[23] That is buried knowledge. Maybe it is not buried intentionally, but it is just as effectively by the work and whirl of everyday institutional practices and by the ways historically white-dominant schools (HWDS) often default to value some people’s histories while devaluing that of others – and over generations.

Disqualified knowledge is Foucault’s term for a second form of subjugated knowledge. This is people’s knowledge and traditions as not so much buried as marginalized. It is kept at the edge of some other tradition deemed to be more core, more expert. At PTS, this traditional core may be called “Classical,” or “Reformed.” Knowledge beyond or marginal to this core is often assumed to be “non-conceptual,” Foucault suggests. Further, this knowledge is usually left in unelaborated form, accompanied by indicators both subtle and blatant that these are “naïve knowledges, hierarchically inferior.” They “are [deemed] below the required level of [so-called] erudition or scientificity,” Foucault states.[24] As an example of disqualified knowledge, we might think about how texts by thinkers from minoritized groups struggle to find a prominent place in the introductory courses of theological schools. These knowledges are visible, but they are referenced in ways – at the end of a course, as a side bar – such that even when they are included they never quite shed an implication that they are also excludable. Black voices and those of other communities of color, international voices, other religious voices, women’s voices, those of the sexually nonconforming – all, have had to struggle against being visible or included as “excludables.”[25] These are examples of disqualified knowledge.

It is students and community members as well as activists in our midst who often cry out to their institutions to redress this burial and disqualification of such knowledges. They call scholars to engage in an “insurrection” of voices against the subjugating regimes of our schools today. In other words, a certain energy of remembrance abides in local memories demanding and facilitating the research. Thus educational institutions are prompted, sometimes propelled toward new, often unsettling historical recall. In spite of all the proactivity of scholarly research, there is a sense in which our research into this is an experience of insurrection.

“It is students and community members as well as activists in our midst who often cry out to their institutions to redress this burial and disqualification of such knowledges. They call scholars to engage in an “insurrection” of voices against the subjugating regimes of our schools today.”

We are overtaken, one could say, pressed into service by memories that abide in descendants of the violated. Methodologically we are engaging in what Foucault often termed “genealogy.” In one place he defines this method of genealogy as a “coupling together” of scholarly erudition and local memories.” This makes our research more than an academic act. It is also a political act because it also “allows us to constitute a historical knowledge of struggles. It is a “memory of combats,” to use another phrase of Foucault’s.[26] Combat is an apt rendering if we recall PTS abolitionist graduates, Theodore Wright and Elijah Lovejoy, who experienced this struggle in and with their bodies. It is apt too if we recall Seminary professors who supported the ACS which mobilized antagonism and repression toward abolitionist’s. The ACS did not just position itself as a wise and judicious (perhaps overly cautious and unimaginative) site between slavery and abolition. Contrary to what PTS’s slavery audit states in its final chapter, Seminary professors’ support of colonization was not simply “to take an almost Aristotelian middle way between the extremes of support for slavery and abolition” (p. 49). ACS leaders and members participated in the repression of abolitionists. The ACS leadership “collected intelligence on student activism, deployed professors and administrators to promote colonization, and empowered ACS agents to police antislavery organizations.”[27] To belong to the ACS was to be a proactive agent supporting the harassment, surveillance, and often physical attack on abolitionists, as the murdered PTS grad Elijah Lovejoy found out in 1837, and as PTS graduate and abolitionist Theodore Wright experienced at a commencement event in 1836. Again, black abolitionists fought back, resisting the colonizationists, not as simply middle-way compromisers. Thus black abolitionists organized large conferences, over several years, and at many conferences, denouncing colonization’s basic vision, “the whole scheme [as] . . . anti-republican, anti-Christian, and anti-humane.”  Black abolitionists decried the ACS’ “criminal hatred of color,” its attempts to “variously flatter, cajole, bribe and intimidate blacks” in the name of its “cruel, utopian system.”[29]

Within the paradigm I am proposing, abolition struggle is seen as persisting today in local memory such that it surges into our scholarship. If we wish that institutions’ slavery research to issue in real acts of redress today, we are going to need some of this abolitionist fighting spirit. Foucault himself will need to be corrected and revitalized by other writers, especially those steeped in the black radical tradition. [30] One of these thinkers, Cedric Robinson, challenged Foucault fruitfully, especially Foucault’s tendency (or maybe mainly those of his U.S. “postmodern” followers) to propagate a totalizing view of power’s domination. This is a tendency to overlook the resistance of the subjugated themselves. Such resistance exists not only in the dramatic rebellions but also in the everyday acts of resistance. As Edward Said wrote about both black struggle in the U.S. and Palestinians’ struggle against U.S.-backed Israel, “there is always something beyond the reach of dominating systems, no matter how deeply they saturate society and this is obviously what makes change possible, what limits power.”[31]  Following Said, Robinson writes “Racial regimes are subsequently unstable truth systems with penchants for collapse and fragmentation. They are constructed social systems in which race is proposed as a justification for the relations of power. So it is, that racial regimes are “unrelentingly hostile” to almost any exhibition of their origins and mechanisms. Really, as Robinson writes – again, tellingly for our research efforts – “a discoverable history is incompatible with a racial regime” – especially with a racial “truth regime” the power of which is always unstable built upon the processes of burying and disqualifying knowledges. This is why discoverable history of slavery and its descendants’ “combat” is unpopular.

“If we can reframe our research in a paradigm of Abolition Struggle, then we are not primarily erudite originators of a new knowledge.”

If we can reframe our research in a paradigm of Abolition Struggle, then we are not primarily erudite originators of a new knowledge. More accurately we are animated by a remembrance pulsing in our communities and in those who feel the force of that past. This is what enables demands for justice to be felt as pressure on scholars in the present, both to think anew and to act. Slavery, we are forced to admit, has what H.G. Gadamer discussed (in his phenomenology) a certain “effective historical consciousness” at work among current interpreters.[32] In the language of sociologist Avery Gordon, slavery haunts and is spectral; its past is a “seething presence.”[33] In local memories of our students and communities, this is what couples with our erudition and demands scholars’ work. This is the “insurrection of subjugated knowledges.” Memory becomes a memory of combats and leads to struggle in contemporary research that is precisely that – struggle. It is struggle especially as we work for what must be realized by any meaningful redress, the fullness of abolitionist insurrection.


In this fourth section I develop the second contribution made by viewing research into slavery legacies within an abolitionist paradigm. Such a paradigm drives our research and work for “reconciliation” beyond reformism. It shoulders a revolutionary task, one that is as broad and variegated as was abolition struggle’s vision and practice. As I will show here the abolition struggle paradigm points beyond taking the memories of slavery as only about race or white supremacy. It is about those issues, yes. But it also about so much more. The abolitionists maintained a capacious view of the domination they suffered, spawned by a number of subjugating regimes that were founded by slavery. Consequently, to remember slavery fully in our present is to resist today a multiplicity of spheres of subjugation that make up slavery’s “after-life.”[34] It is this abolitionist capacious view, thinking deeply and widely about slavery-based white supremacy, which allowed a scholar like W. E. B. Du Bois to treat the deadly racist practices of whites against blacks as, to a significant degree, also a problem of white upper class exploitation of white workers.

” . . . abolitionists maintained a capacious view of the domination they suffered, spawned by a number of subjugating regimes that were founded by slavery.”

“Back of the writing, yelling, cruel-eyed demons who break, destroy, maim and lynch and burn at the stake is a knot, large or small of normal human beings . . . desperately afraid of something. Of what? . . . most ubiquitous in modern industrial society . . . that fear of unemployment.”[35] Moreover, and Du Bois is again an exemplar here, to really understand slavery’s after-life, its legacy, requires respecting abolitionist struggle also for its long durée, its long journey through colonial and antebellum USA, through Reconstruction (1865-1878/1880), to the rise of Jim Crow, and to todays formation of a brutal mass incarceration in the U.S. sustained by a “carceral state”[36] that anchors a new enchainment of black and brown peoples in the U.S. PTS’s rootedness in the legacy of slavery calls for an analysis of these periods too. Moreover, abolitionist’s capacious view of anti-racist struggle continues today, implying that understanding slavery’s legacy means understanding what abolitionists are up against today.[37]

Let me be more direct. Abolition struggle was not and cannot today be only about fighting “white normativity” as the Princeton Seminary report states.[38] Abolitionists were not just “race men” or “race women,” or “race activists.” Sinha notes that “black abolitionists” were those who “. . . questioned the very foundations of the early American Republic. Black abolitionists were not so much black founders as the founding critics of the country.[39]  Abolitionist perspectives didn’t just target the bad slave-owner of the South. The abolitionists fought the anti-blackness and white supremacy at work in slavery, yes, but they knew that the South’s subjugating regime of white supremacy was about more than race problems there. In their radicality they also exposed northerners’ complicity in upholding slavery. This required abolitionists to connecting the suffering of slaves to that caused by the forms of the U.S. nation’s accumulation of wealth. It laid the foundation for one of the most comprehensive discourses on human rights, one far more radical than liberal human rights traditions. [40] Thus, Princeton Seminary professors’ “failure of imagination” when refusing to pursue a vigorous anti-slavery practices was not due only to their being ensconced in “white normativity.” It was more the case that, unlike the abolitionists, they were unwilling to dismantle the whole world that slavery built. We must explore that fuller world.

“Abolition struggle was not and cannot today be only about fighting ‘white normativity’ as the Princeton Seminary report states.”

This chapter takes up four modes of subjugation that were always interacting with, indeed co-constituting slavery’s apparatus and its white supremacist mode of subjugation.[41] Each of these modes of subjugation are co-sonstitutive and expressive of the legacy of Western, European colonialism.[42] If we do not dare to form a knowledge and praxis regarding these other modes of subjugation when we talk of “truth-telling and reconciliation,” we are failing to really counter the breadth and confining complexity of slavery’s extensive brutality and of its cruel legacy. Below, I take up each of the four modes of subjugation in distinctive sections of this writing. But please note: this does not at all mean that these modes should be viewed as separable from one another.  Then, as today, these modes of subjugation spawn numerous modes of interaction forming what I have termed a kind of “infrastructure of oppression” or an “apparatus of domination.”

A. Capitalist Exploitation of Land and Labor

Consider a first mode of subjugation, co-constitutive with white supremacy, that of capitalism’s exploitation of land and labor. It is signaled in a summary offered by Harvard History professor Sven Beckert in his 700-page book, The Empire of Cotton.  “Slavery stood at the center of the most dynamic and far-reaching production complex in human history. Herman Merivale, British colonial bureaucrat, noted that Manchester’s and Liverpool’s ‘opulence is as really owing to the toil and suffering of the negro, as if his hands had excavated their docks and fabricated their steam-engines.’ Capital accumulation in peripheral commodity production, according to Merivale, was necessary for metropolitan economic expansion and access to labor, if necessary by coercion,  was a precondition for turning abundant lands into productive suppliers of raw material.[43]

” ‘ . . . abolitionists drew attention to the connection between the growth of capitalism and slavery and the central place of slave-labor-grown cotton in the national and global political economy.’ -Manisha Sinha”

The links between slavery and capitalism did not have to await the many historians who are detailing these links today.[44] Recall, for example, the early groundbreaking scholarship of Eric Williams’ 1944 book Capitalism & Slavery.[45] Antebellum abolitionists themselves saw the connections, too. “Long before contemporary historians did, abolitionists drew attention to the connection between the growth of capitalism and slavery and the central place of slave-labor-grown cotton in the national and global political economy.”[46]  Such abolitionists knew well that that slavery was making possible a kind of “U.S. rogue nation” that worked in synergy with a transnational elite class. As Baptist reminds, the U.S. South had become “the richest class of white people in the United States and perhaps the world.”[47] Again, slavery was not only a race thing. In Cedric Robinson’s language it was a “racial capitalism.[48] Slavery was about captivity for labor and profit, and thus its legacy today is especially evident in the way black and brown persons are in a “prison industrial complex” that is now integrated with so many economic and political functions that we have a “carceral state.”[49] We face today a “carceral capitalism” that requires new modes of confinement to guarantee desired profit.[50] The entire history of black subjugation, and increasingly of detaining immigrants, can be told as a confrontation with racial capitalism and its multiple webs spun to derive profit from black suffering.[51]

Mining this vein connecting white supremacy and capitalism, Sinha reminds her readers: “Labor and abolition movements shared a discourse of oppression: working-class reformers adopted the term wage slavery to describe the abysmal conditions of workers, as slavery remained the benchmark of oppression.”[52] One abolitionist lamented that “both slaves and free labor were ‘subject to the will of the monied few.’ Awareness of the international political economy that U.S. slavery was founding led many abolitionists into solidarity with socialists and socialist-like movements across the globe.[53]

Slavery’s history can also be traced into the unethical financial machinations of corporations in international capitalism today. Historian Caitlyn Rosenthal exposes linkages between slavery and international capitalism today, by examining accounting methods during slavery. She reflects on contemporary financial capitalism in the light of slavery’s haunting documents.

Running a slave plantation involved lots of data carefully entered into paper spreadsheets and reports that were passed along to absentee owners in England. From the comfort of counting rooms, plantation owners could review this data without having to think too hard about the people it represented . . . careful records tracked the daily tasks of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people they enslaved, all with an eye to maximizing profits . . . when you understand the context of these records  the records are horrifying. . . . The ease with which this happened offers a cautionary tale for modern business.[54]

Rosenthal ends her new book, Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management, with a line that tellingly links the problem and legacy of slavery to the accumulation of capital, today: “The power of capital to control labor was rarely more acutely felt than when labor was capital.[55]

Especially today, with our war-driven corporate elite servicing often unbridled wealth accumulation, a struggle against this capitalism is in order. For universities seeking redress regarding this dimension of slavery’s legacy, it will hardly be sufficient to rearrange scholarships and funding programs within “the burning house” that U.S. and European-based corporate structures maintain. A more fundamental and far-reaching reparations policy is in order, not only first of all for descendants of enslaved peoples but for all those impoverished by slavery and its legacy. I will return to the theme of reparations in this essay’s Conclusion, and also consider in my closing the importance of the Princeton Abolitionist Policy Center (PAPC), which might coordinate such reparations. For now, journalist Glen Ford’s words challenge us both intellectually and politically when he concludes his essay on reparations this way: “Real redress can only come when the system that cannibalized tens of millions of Black bodies and underdeveloped most of the world for the benefits of the Lords of Capital, is demolished root and branch and just settlements made among the peoples of the Earth.”[56]


“White supremacy was, in the words of theologian Jeannine Hill Fletcher a ‘religio-racial project.’ Fletcher shows how theology’s Christian supremacist teachings supported the white supremacy that U.S. slavery required.”

White supremacy’s marking of black labor as fuel and fodder for capitalist exploitation was made strong by Christian supremacy. Christian supremacy, in itself another mode of subjugation, was instrumental in the forging and maintaining of slavery. Again, Christian supremacy should be seen as co-constitutive of slavery and its legacy, along with white supremacy and capitalism. To fight the legacy of slavery, then, will mean a critique and resistance to Christian supremacy. Both J. Kameron Carter and Willie James Jennings have, in different ways, pointed to the Christian supremacist formations of Western modernity that used Christian supremacy to power white supremacy and its embodiment in slavery.[57] White supremacy was, in the words of theologian Jeannine Hill Fletcher a “religio-racial project.” Fletcher shows how theology’s Christian supremacist teachings supported the white supremacy that U.S. slavery required.[58]

How does Christian supremacy support and cultivate white supremacy? Fletcher is particularly helpful in identifying a crucial dynamic, what she terms a “Christian theo-logic” that plants the seeds of Christians’ sense of religious supremacy. The dynamic begins with a key affirmation of God as creator of the singular reality, the world in its entirety. God is confessed as “maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible” in the language of the Nicene Creed.[59] Simply this affirmation can suggest that there is “a basic equality” among humans who are surely included among “all things.” Human equality could be grounded in this singularity of origin. But this “basic equality” is often undermined, as when the same creed expresses a further affirmation that has been central to the teachings of nearly all Christianity. It was certainly fundamental to the American colonial “divines” who founded U.S. colonial higher education. This further affirmation held that the Jesus who was proclaimed as Christ by the churches is “the only begotten Son of God,” one who bridges heaven and earth by “coming down” to earth. He becomes the one singly divinized (“fully divine”), the privileged point amidst “all things” of humanity and creation (“fully human”). Jesus does this, as the creed puts it “for us men and for our salvation.” Thus a hierarchy is operative within the Christian theo-logic itself, even if we bracket the further point that this logic is always interacting with a white supremacist logic. The hierarchical sense arises from the imparting of greater worth to those who are recipients of this salvation. A value-laden distinction is set between those who know this salvation that Jesus “came down for,” and those who do not know it. Fletcher shows this value-laden religious hierarchy within the Christian logic by citing not only the creeds and core doctrinal statements of the Catholic church from the third-century onwards. It was also the case in the days of the Seminary’s founding amid slavery (as it often is today) that Christians were frequently found to “claim supremacy through the singularity of Jesus Christ in his role as savior of humankind.”[60] The Nicene Creed is of course still owned and confessed aloud by churches across the globe. If this Christian theo-logic is also set in contexts where white supremacy pervades social structures, and where capitalists exploit black labor, then both the oppression and the suffering increase exponentially. Christian supremacy is a key force in this system.

“Christian ministers, missionaries and theologians . . . could rarely think otherwise than “Christian” when crafting U.S. educational systems.”

The architects of college systems rooted in slave-holding were of course themselves “divines” – Christian ministers, missionaries and theologians with this theologic. They could rarely think otherwise than “Christian” when crafting U.S. educational systems. The supremacy was important to maintain if for no other reason than that as many as 15-30 percent of enslaved Africans were from the Islam-influenced West coast of Africa.[61] The power of Islam, felt as spectral threat, was evident among Christians well before the U.S. was founded, throughout its antebellum life and to the present. As Robert Allison writes, Islam was seen as Christianity’s great foe. When the U.S. Constitution was forged and especially during the war against the Barbary Pirates off the northern shores of Africa, Islam was portrayed as opposed to the American experiment in liberty. Islam was regularly presented as a force that “fostered religious and political oppression.”[62]

Christian supremacy also had to be maintained vis-à-vis Jews, whose numbers were not great in colonial and in the antebellum U.S. But their number of 2,500 in 1791 was not insignificant. They were subject to conversionist projects of Christian evangelicalism, as well as ostracism. American Christian societies funded projects to deport them.[63] Persecution of them also occurred, even if regions both in the South and the North had toleration laws to accommodate freedom for them. But White Christian slave-holders or supporters were rarely vigorous advocates of that toleration. Elias Boudinot, a devout Presbyterian and supporter of Christian missions – also a lawyer and statesman from Elizabeth NJ who was a delegate to the Continental Congress and U.S. congressman for NJ – bequeathed 4,000 acres in Warren County PA for the settlement of Jews. There they were to be converted and removed to separate settlement areas. The Maine organization of the American Society Ameliorating the Condition of the Jews “pledged to raise funds to find an American “asylum” for Jewish converts. Such sequestering of Jews to their own enclaves was often theologically motivated. Consider, for example, this 1823 statement’s exhibition of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism by the Portland [Maine] Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews: “For nearly eighteen centuries that people have suffered for the sin of killing the Prince of life.”[64]

Christian supremacy is evident, too, in a noteworthy speech by a functional PTS president and professor at Princeton Seminary, Alexander Taggert McGill. In 1877 he gave an address to the American Colonization society entitled, “Patriotism, Philanthropy and Religion.” By “religion” McGill meant his preferred Christianity. Not Judaism, not Islam. The “freedom” McGill dreamed for “the black man” was Christian, i.e. “the freedom with which the Son makes free.” In the ACS’s design to send slaves to Africa, McGill quoted Henry Clay in a shared Christian supremacist vision: “What Christian is there who does not feel a deep interest in sending forth missionaries to convert the dark heathen and bring them within the pale of Christianity.”[65] He certainly did not mean the multitude of indigenous spiritualities and alternative cosmologies and religiosities of indigenous peoples whom Presbyterians and other Christians set about converting.[66]

“In the ACS’s design to send slaves to Africa, [PTS’s] McGill quoted Henry Clay in a shared Christian supremacist vision: ‘What Christian is there who does not feel a deep interest in sending forth missionaries to convert the dark heathen and bring them within the pale of Christianity.’ “

To be sure, Christians, black and white, were also key proponents of abolition. But the abolition movement and the slave resistance that birthed it was not primarily, certainly not only Christian. Abolitionists featured a blend of Christian folk religion and culture, merging African spiritualities with spiritualities of indigenous communities (with whom slaves often found shelter), and again elements from Islam.[67] Thus it was that Christians did not exhaust slave resistance movements or even the early black civil society from which many abolitionists came. Black civil society was often made up of groups that did not foreground Christian supremacy, such as various schools and societies, and early social organizations forged against slavery such as masonic lodges, the African Humane Society, the Free African Union Society and others.[68]

“The PTS Audit document leaves Christian supremacist missions largely unquestioned.”

Such Christian supremacy is not discussed by reports from the two Christian affiliated institutional reports we have before us from Princeton Seminary and Georgetown University. The PTS audit does refer to a problematic “white Christian vision.” The emphasis here, though, is more on “white normativity” not on a permeating “Christian normativity” that often reigned in the Seminary’s unquestioned missionizing postures. The PTS Audit document leaves Christian supremacist missions largely unquestioned. Betsey Stockton and her emancipation and distinguished work as missionary to the Sandwich Islands, for example, are simply presented as if her culmination in U.S. missionary work was an unalloyed positive outcome. To be sure, in contrast to her former enslavement her missionary’s life is a “positive,” to say the least. But there are at least some ambiguities to be explored here, not simply because of Christian missions’ role in Western colonialism and imperialism generally, but more particularly because of the roles of missionaries in the dispossession of lands and people in the Sandwich Islands/Hawaii.[69] Christian supremacy then is another subjugating regime, interlocking with white supremacy that works systemically to support the apparatus of slavery. [70] Hawaiian missions’ connection to U.S. imperialism anticipates another subjugating regime. [71]

c. The Imperial Nationalism of the U.S.

The white supremacist, and Christian capitalist republic also took the world stage with designs on empire from the earliest decades after its breaking from Britain’s empire. Thomas Jefferson spoke of the U.S. as an “empire of liberty” that was expanded under his presidency by the massive “Louisiana purchase.” He reminded Indian leaders in a “standard Great Father talk” that “”My children, we are strong, we are numerous and as the stars in the heaven, and we are all gun-men.”[72] Numerous treaty violations and U.S. army campaigns – volunteer and official – aimed at Indian removal. These U.S. campaigns, waged against the Indians by both volunteer and regular U.S. combatants, and also by paramilitary militias (“rangers”), show remarkable continuity with 20th century military personnel and their battle tactics.  “Twenty-six of the thirty US generals in the Philippines had been officers in the “Indian wars.”[73] The Pentagon’s division of the planet into five or six global command areas today was “similar to the way that the Indian Country of the American West had been divided in the mid-nineteenth century.” In U.S. imperial military warfare today, official military forces regularly provide support of on-the-ground militias (official and nonofficial) much as did the U.S. armies in supporting vigilante “settler vigilantes,” settler colonialist “rangers.”[74]

Imperialist militarism abroad continued during the Indian wars that the U.S. waged. Presidents John Tyler and especially James Polk baited Mexico into war which ended in 1848 and a treaty that ceded such a vast amount of land to the victorious U.S., that it is difficult to find a comparably large land annexation in the history of war treaties. That war’s ending set the stage for contestation in the U.S., as the “old Southwest” slave states (Mississippi, Alabama, et al) wanted to expand westward (into Texas, New Mexico, et al). Thus, a U.S. imperial drive was constitutive of a growing republic and was nurtured in synergy with its white supremacy and Christian supremacy, exercised simultaneously on the fronts of Indian wars and wars abroad. The Seminary audit lists PTS students and graduates who fought on one side or the other of the Civil War (most on the North), but there is no tracing of PTS support and participation in the Indian wars or in the war with Mexico.  It is likely, if not highly probable that students and/or their ancestors participated in both.[75]

“there is no tracing of PTS support and participation in the Indian wars or in the war with Mexico.”

The PTS Audit asks repeatedly “Why” Seminary Christian professors could denounce slavery but still fail to break with the white supremacy of the ACS? Why could founding theological “divines” not embrace abolitionists? The reason is not only because of their white normativity. Nor was it only because they were embedded in the financial capitalism that slavery of their day made possible. Nor, again, was it only because of the Christian normativity that they took all too often as the supreme revelation of God to humankind. All this did indeed limit them. But it was more. They were also supporters of a U.S. political capitalist economy being built on slavery that romanticized and materially depended upon a mode of U.S. governance that was nationalist and imperial. During the same period that Princeton professors remained supportive of the ACS in nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they remained committed to the imperialist venture of U.S. empire. Perhaps one Presbyterian chronicler and pastoral theologian, Robert Laird Stewart (1840-1916) expressed best this Christian imperialist and nationalist faith when he described Presbyterian minister, missionary and Indian boarding school superintendent, Sheldon Jackson (1834-1909), one of  “’the pioneers of the cross,’ who . . . held steadily to their purpose to win this magnificent empire to Christ.” Of U.S. settlers and their “westward course of empire” Steward saw “nothing more sublime in history or more divine in Providence.”[76] Even when Presbyterian missionaries, with the support of Charles Hodge criticized the racist science of the nineteenth century it was their “cultural imperialism,” persisting in an embrace of the “superiority of the American way” that kept them supportive of Indian removal and confinement if not of Indians’ total assimilation into their White Republic.[77]

The abolitionists present us a contrasting set of practices. The abolitionists were both anti-colonial and counter-imperial. They “adopted an anticolonial discourse that took up the cause of subject peoples all over the world; not only for enslaved Africans, but also for native populations in the Americas and those colonized by the British in India and Ireland, and elsewhere.”[78] Sinha writes, “Abolitionists’ criticisms of proslavery imperialism gave antislavery politicians their key wedge issue,” wrote Sinha.[79] All these and more traits of antebellum abolitionism are detailed in a splendid chapter in Sinha, entitled “The Abolitionist International.” They saw the U.S. imperial state as a rogue child of the brutal apparatus of slavery. They opposed slavery and U.S. imperialism together, while seminary professors and most students serviced missionaries for an expanding Christianity and U.S. imperial project.

“[The abolitionists] . . . ‘adopted an anti-colonial discourse that took up the cause of subject peoples all over the world; not only for enslaved Africans, but also for native populations in the Americas and those colonized by the British in India and Ireland, and elsewhere.” – Manisha Sinha “

Abolition struggle today, similarly, must confront the legacy of slavery that is expressed also in a resistance today to the ongoing U.S. imperial pursuit to maintain its global sovereignty. With its five or six global area command centers, with its 800 military bases worldwide, the U.S. qualifies as empire. For those who doubt it and who want to compare it with other imperial formations, and wish to understand the distinctiveness of the U.S. imperial project and its destructive outcomes, a host of scholars’ works are available today.[80]

Theological professors’ support for the slave empire’s expansionism and nationalism is one of the major reasons PTS faculty did not resist the white normativity embodied in the institution of slavery. To do so, would have meant resisting American empire with its foundation and financial well-being secured by the coercion, use and maintenance of the forced and unpaid labor of African bodies.

d. U.S. Hegemonic Masculinism

The failure of mid-nineteenth century theological educators to match their conceptual denunciations of slavery with an anti-slavery abolitionism and to settle, instead, for a de facto proslavery colonization project is also partly due to the educators’ stance on “the woman question.” This is not a critique rooted simply in a claim that the divines were all men. More importantly, we need to consider the roles of sex and gender in relation to slavery and white supremacy. These roles formed a mode of subjugation of its own, one I term “hegemonic masculinism,” however much it also worked in complex interaction with white supremacy and with the other subjugating modes I have already discussed.

The overall function of “hegemonic masculinism” is to construct a sex/gender binary in public and private life so that a system of family order legitimizes and privileges the power of certain notion so the masculine, “masculinist” traits, with few features of “the feminine” being similarly empowered. The result of this masculinism in the antebellum period was a mobilization of the affective/libidinal energies that animated the bonds of intimacy among a slave-based, white and elite class.[81] Those energies united ever more securely the ascendant positioning of this class. Higher education in antebellum America – at Princeton and the other rising centers of academic study – structured intimate family bonding within their slave-based white elite classes. Historian of American religion, James Moorhead argues that at “the center of cultural and religious prestige” in mid-nineteenth century America there thrived the much-documented “Victorian cult of domesticity.” In it “the wife and mother recreated in the home a little bit of Eden before the fall, a place of calm in the midst of the hurly-burly of the competitive (male) world.”[82] This was to be women’s primary domain for virtuous practice, caring for the family, with their female virtues sometimes extending to organizing and promoting various benevolent activities in the wider society.

“Higher education in antebellum America – at Princeton and the other rising centers of academic study – structured intimate family bonding within their slave-based white elite classes.”

At Princeton, there are numerous signs that this gender system held sway. Early theological founder Samuel Miller refused to tolerate “any education of women premised on the breaking down of distinct gender roles.”[83] Like Ashbel Green, the first president of the Seminary and of its Board, Miller warned against the supposedly dire consequences of women becoming “public preachers and teachers in assemblies promiscuously composed of the two sexes.”[84] Both Miller writing in 1825, and the Seminary’s noted systematic theologian Charles Hodge in 1838 lamented any influence of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).[85]

Similarly, when Archibald Alexander reviewed Catherine Beecher’s 1836 book, Letters on the Difficulties of Religion, Moorhead traces how Alexander first complemented her on having “a strong good sense” and for even showing “general sobriety and correctness of her opinions.” Nevertheless, he went on to impose upon her an invocation of scriptural supremacy, opining that “We are glad that Paul has said so emphatically, ‘I suffer not a woman to speak in the church’.”[86] Moorhead summarizes, “Alexander and his Princeton colleagues considered such texts decisive in determining the status of women.”[87]

Recall Moorhead’s point that this maintenance of domesticity and service against women’s more public role in education and society prevailed “at the centers of cultural and religious prestige.” By contast and at the peripheries, notes Moorhead, there was greater fluidity of gender and of sex’s meanings for public life. Abolitionists, especially the black women abolitionists who according to Sinha launched and gave birth to the women’s rights movements came from “humbler backgrounds,” i.e. were from these peripheries. “Black women’s abolitionism came of age in the writings and speeches of remarkable women like Maria Stewart, Sarah Mapps Douglass, Sarah Louise Forten and Jarena Lee.” Sinha adds, “Black women took the lead in female antislavery organizing too,” and then abolitionism “nurtured women’s activism” along many fronts of struggle with subjugation, with that of slavery above all, but also regarding the subjugation of other workers viewed nationally and internationally.”[88]
Abolitionism, in other words, which united an advocacy of women’s emancipation with that of slaves, was everything that mid-nineteenth century elite Christian professors could not accept. Moorhead puts it well when he writes, “What the Princeton professors believed about the role of women and what they believed about slavery were at the end of the day of a piece.”[89] At first look Moorhead’s claim may not seem quite right. After all, as he himself had made clear, the Princeton male divines did denounce the subjugation of blacks to slavery (theologically and intellectually) in ways they did not for women’s subjugation. They seemed to denounce, at least theologically, the subordination of Africans to slavery or colonization, in a way they could not denounce the subordination. Nevertheless, Moorhead’s observation remains apt. This is so if we note the rhetorical ways that Princeton Seminary divines condemned women’s subordination. This will show why in practice they also could not join the abolitionists and instead settled for that de facto pro-slavery advocacy of recolonizing blacks to Africa.

” ‘What the Princeton professors believed about the role of women and what they believed about slavery were at the end of the day of a piece.’ – Moorhead”

Note, for example, the rhetorical manner in which Charles Hodge argues against the desirability that women might “come forth in the liberty of men.” Moorhead lays it bare. He finds at the heart of Hodge’s critique of women’s emancipation “a thread” that he terms “Hodge’s fear.” It is worth quoting in full Moorhead’s extract from Hodge:

Let these principles [those that would free women for involvement in public life] be carried out and there is an end to all social subordination, to all security for life or property, to all guarantee for public or domestic virtue. If our women are to be emancipated from subjection to the law which God has imposed upon them, if they are to quit the retirement of domestic life, where they preside in stillness over the character and destiny of society, if they are to come forth in the liberty of men, to be our agents, our public lecturers, our committeemen, our rulers; if, in studied insult to the authority of God, we are to renounce the marriage contract, all claim to obedience, we shall soon have a country over which the genius of Mary Wollstoncraft [sic] would delight to preside, but from which all order and all virtue would speedily be banished.[90]

Moorhead’s reflection on Hodge’s extract is equally illuminating:

The thread running through this attack was Hodge’s fear of “an end to all social subordination.” A properly ordered society consisted of a series of such relationships – of humanity to God, woman to man, children to parents, slaves to masters, the morally unfit and uneducated to the best and brightest. He perceived abolitionism as the symptom of a disordered egalitarianism.[91]

With Princeton divines’ sweeping embrace of “all social subordination” as also a defense of “all security for life and property,” we see the horizon to which these theological minds were restricted. With this conviction constraining their public and intimate personal lives, the Christian professors might denounce slavery intellectually but resist abolition and or other practical means that might actually end slaves’ real subjugation.

In short, any effective end of the institution of slavery, for which abolitionist men fought with powerful leadership of women, would have threatened all the regimes of subjugation that were necessary for securing the center of cultural and religious prestige, a center that the Princeton elite took as providentially given, as their rightful place. “Disordered egalitarianism,” especially that of abolitionists’ emancipatory vision, threatened a divinely ordered structure of social subordination.


So it is that any research into U.S. education’s slavery roots – if it is to culminate in any attempts at redress or reconciliation – will be caught up in a most demanding insurrection of subjugated knowledges. But recall, as such an insurrection, living under this demand is also to participate in history’s ongoing abolition struggle, an ongoing “insurrection” perduring from slavery into the present. To speak theologically, perhaps, to live under this demand is to participate in the way history has been gifted with, “graced by” a never-dying and always simmering abolition struggle. Participating in that struggle is to find both gift and empowerment for struggle. To be sure the demand remains. It is “demanding” because breaking with the world of slavery means breaking with the foundations of our current order’s multiple modes of subjugation at work in the house that slavery built.

” . . . breaking with the world of slavery means breaking with the foundations of our current order’s multiple modes of subjugation at work in the house that slavery built.”

We are thus today confronted with a whole tangle of frustrated and simmering emancipatory interests and needs. We are faced with the task of comprehensively questioning the nation’s founding, its white and Christian supremacy, its hegemonic masculinism and capitalist exploitation, as well as its currently maintained drives for empire and global sovereignty.

One historian at a 2019 Seminary conference in Princeton expressed concern that such a broad-gauged critique of slavery’s many levels, born from thinking within an Abolition Struggle paradigm has a troubling feature: it “scales-up” the problems for reflecting on slavery. The problem seems two-fold; first, it lays out before historians a diffuse terrain that scholarly erudition often eschews because “the scope is too broad;” second, it taxes any sense of personal agency in the present because the problem just looks “too big” and thus demoralizes subjects who need the hope that comes from formulating more finite and manageable aims.
I admit the problem, but only as a difficulty and, perhaps, as momentous challenge. I contend that to acknowledge the enormity and complexity of multiply interacting modes of subjugation, in both local and global dimensions, can make our efforts all the more effective in any one of those dimensions. A positive aspect of this “scaling-up” is that we are admitting the real complexity at work in slavery and that endures in slavery’s “after-lives” today. We cannot fight slavery’s legacy simply by fighting racism and white supremacy. Slavery was white supremacist. Yes, it was a “race thing.” But it was, from the beginning also capitalist exploitation amidst Western colonization. It was also Christian supremacist, U.S. imperialist and hegemonically masculinist. The commitments of the privileged to all these subjugating modes are “a piece with” the commitment to slavery and its order. To the degree that we fail to challenge those interacting subjugating regimes we will fail to redress slavery and its legacy.

“To the degree that we fail to challenge those interacting subjugating regimes we will fail to redress slavery and its legacy.”

Let me conclude by giving examples of how we might address and redress the whole tangle that this Abolition Struggle paradigm brings into view. I will do so by considering the call for reparations from current African American students at PTS. Their call for restitution expresses some of the broad demands of abolition struggle and vision.

“The ABS document . . . “The Call” – . . . bears many features that are exemplary of abolitionist vision and practice.”

In 2019 the Association of Black Seminarians (ABS) at Princeton Seminary issued a call to the Seminary’s administration and Board to make “restitution of the benefits received by this institution from the immoral extraction of wealth from the labor of enslaved Africans in the period of 1812-1861.” The document, entitled “Response to the Princeton Seminary Slavery Audit,” was affirmed unanimously by the ABS on March 4, 2019. It’s core claim is that because “15-40% of the Seminary’s endowed wealth was sourced in the labor of enslaved Africans in America and the economic activity derived from that stolen labor,” now “no less than 15% of the current endowment [should] . . . be allocated for redressing this historical injustice by January 1, 2020.”[92]
The ABS document – hereafter termed the “Restitution Call” or “The Call” – is a form of reparations demand in theological education. As such, it bears many features that are exemplary of abolitionist vision and practice. From at least the time of emancipation in 1863, blacks and their abolitionist supporters called for substantive, economic and political reparations from their “old masters.”[93] The opening paragraphs of The Call by ABS in 2019 also notes the ways that white supremacy in slavery was not just about racism, but also an exploitation of wealth from forced unfree labor. In this way, The Call suggests its awareness of the many lineaments binding-up white supremacy with capitalist exploitation of land and labor.

Various other aspects of The Call exemplify the broad vision of abolition struggle. First and foremost, the Call seeks economic redress. The Call seeks full tuition, fees, room and board grants for all admitted African-American students; loan forgiveness for all African-American alumni; tuition grants for all admitted black Th.M. students; formal endowment of a fully functioning Black Church Studies Program (paragraph 2a, 2d, 2e and 2.f).

Second, the financial redress is yoked to key political structural transformation. By “political,” here, I mean proposals that are empowering in the Seminary “polis,” in its structuring of programmatic entities and obligations. The Call asks for the underwriting of costs for individual Black students (past and present). There is requested a new Black Church Studies Program (2.f), a Center in the library to be named after abolitionist Theodore Sedgwick Wright (2.f.v), an annual lecture series (2.f.vii), visiting professorships (2.f.iv), and partnerships with other historically black colleges and universities in the U.S. (3.a).

Third, there is a global consciousness at work in The Call, reflective of “the abolitionist international.” At points The Call even shows its critique of European colonialist and imperialist postures. The Call’s concluding paragraph frames its requests as an act of “restorative justice in order to move American theological education away from its imperial Eurocentric impulses towards a holistic, globally responsible future.” Such a statement functions as rationale for The Call’s request also for ten full scholarships for admitted PTS students from Liberia, the West African nation to which the ACS sought to re-colonize blacks from the U.S. (2.b). In addition to the Liberian grants, The Call seeks ten more grants for admitted students from other West Africa countries “from the Senegal to the Congo, the original lands of the enslaved” (2.c). This restorative turn to the non-European, African and global communities, with provisions sought for funding African students at PTS also has a pedagogical focus. This is evident in its announcement of a need “to de-center the curriculum from its Eurocentric bias” (3.e).

“PTS has the wealth and power to make and sustain dramatic and revolutionary changes, if it is enlivened by a revolutionary Christian faith and will.”

All of these aspects of The Call are consistent with the fullness of abolition struggle. As I read the ABS Restitution Call, however, and as I compare it with other movements’ demands for reparations that I have supported in the U.S., I note other dimensions of abolition struggle that are not readily evident in The Call. If I now identify certain areas demanding greater attention than they receive in The Call, I do so not as criticism of The Call as it stands. Formulators of The Call have made careful strategic decisions about what to request given their insightful views and their vulnerabilities as students and recent graduates amidst their multiple jeopardies amidst life at PTS. It is not my role to formulate “the asks” demanded by the descendants of the enslaved. If I focus on additional areas needing attention, I do so to encourage my faculty and administrative colleagues to exceed what is requested in the ABS Call. Often the default response of historically white-dominant governing bodies to such restitution calls is to do only the minimum. Or, they offer to do only what power-holders deem “feasible and responsible” given current funding priorities. What needs to be grasped, though, is that the enormity of the moral wrong that slavery was, and the extent of its consequences over generations, requires a restructuring of white institutions’ current priorities. The after-lives of slavery are virulent and deep running. They call for feasible changes, yes – but revolutionary ones. PTS has a special obligation to do more than meet the requests of the ABS Call. PTS has the wealth and power to make and sustain dramatic and revolutionary changes, if it is enlivened by a revolutionary Christian faith and will.

So, to embrace the other dimensions of abolition’s fullness of insurrectionary knowledge and practice, I suggest strengthening the curricular and programmatic structures of PTS in the following five ways.

First, PTS needs to focus its curricular and programmatic structures on matters of the political economy of class relations as they stratify labor and power both within the United States and between the United States and other nations. This class dimension is barely evident in the ABS Call. But administrators and faculty, who are closer to the structuring and dissemination of wealth and power need to take the lead here. We need to encourage a kind of class consciousness in the seminary community. One way to do this is by examining the ways the seminary endowment is invested. A PTS Board of Trustee member proudly reported some years ago to the faculty that the Seminary has no investments in companies that profit from tobacco and alcohol. When a philosopher colleague asked if PTS had investments in military industries and nuclear armaments and in big oil industry, the Board member did not know and could not answer. We need that information since our institutions – as indeed all of us – are inscribed in a U.S. war economy that spends billions on the U.S. military, largely to defend the economic and geopolitical interests of wealthier classes. This is not to enter into liberal guilt and immobilized hand-wringing about complicity, but to begin that kind of Gramscian “critical inventory” that is a necessary prerequisite for identifying our responsibilities for actions of redress for economic and political justice. Almost all of the crisis issues in U.S. society are related to the political economy of the U.S. vis-à-vis the poorer nations we dominate economically and militarily as well as due to dynamics internal to our nation.[94] Educators in seminaries and elsewhere need to commit to a class analysis that lays bare these dynamics. This should lead to PTS’s providing substantive economic relief not only to its own admitted students, but also to working poor communities in, say, Trenton, Camden and Newark and, truth be told, in Princeton, as well.

“This should lead to PTS’s providing substantive economic relief not only to its own admitted students, but also to working poor communities in, say, Trenton, Camden and Newark and, truth be told, in Princeton, as well.”

Second, PTS needs to expand within the tricontinental South its geopolitical theater for restitution-making thought and action. The Seminary thereby would include in its global orbit of concerns not only the continent of Africa mentioned in The Call, but also the continents of Latin America and South/Southeast Asia. This tricontinental focus will also throw into bolder relief the needs of the Middle East (West Asia) and peripheral Europe (Eastern and Southern). Such an expanded geopolitical theater expresses better the fullness of “the abolitionist international.” Even more importantly, though, it would take seriously the fact that U.S. slavery exploited and enabled dispossession not only of African bodies for labor, but also Asian and Caribbean/Latin American ones, and the overall geopolitical and imperial domination of these regions. This would be to take seriously the point of W. E. B. Du Bois that even though “the black worker was the founding stone of a new economic order in the nineteenth century” these enslaved blacks shared a world of suffering with “that dark and vast sea of human labor in China and India, the South Seas and all Africa; in the East Indies and Central America . . .that great majority of mankind (sic).” [95] Latin America is especially important since from the time of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 it functioned as the backyard “workshop” for U.S. empire-building after the onslaught made against indigenous lands and peoples within the U.S.[96] There will be no enduring reparations for blacks in the U.S. if we do not fight for reparations for other regions subjugated by U.S. imperial drives for global sovereignty. The inter-continental cadre of exploited workers founded in slavery emerged quite quickly, and was evident even in antebellum USA on its way to consolidation in the later nineteenth century.[97]

“There will be no enduring reparations for blacks in the U.S. if we do not fight for reparations for other regions subjugated by U.S. imperial drives for global sovereignty.”

Third, PTS needs to challenge the demon of U.S. militarism. The Seminary’s curricular and programmatic life, for the sake of the world, needs to dare intellectual critique and forms of programmatic resistance to the default patriotic reflexes that U.S. citizens today are pressured to show. I include within the structure of U.S. militarism, the closely-related funding of militarized U.S. police functions.[98] Critique and resistance to the problem of U.S. militarism can accompany any support we may also provide to persons in the military– as citizens, as human beings – who find themselves in military service. We need to recognize that often it is structures of poverty and discrimination that leave youth of minoritized groups distinctly more vulnerable to military recruitment. Taking on U.S. militarism would require critical consciousness and actions that work with many other justice and peace movements to make redress for U.S. wars (overt and covert) which the U.S. funds, has directed or still wages. This war is waged against the dispossessed in the U.S., particularly against those still-thriving indigenous peoples, as well as urban communities of color or rural poor of today, too. This focus though should not slight our turning also outward to face the killing fields abroad that U.S. militarism has so relentlessly tilled on nearly every continent.[99] The list of such lands bloodied by U.S. war and military aid would include Yemen, Palestine, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Iraq, Afghanistan and more. And given Christian seminaries’ geo-theological interests in “the Holy Land,” of primary concern should be the current ethnic cleansing and land-grab long ongoing in Palestine at the hands of the Israel state’s illegal occupation there.[100] The Israeli state, overseeing a population of only 8.7 million is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid, has received over $3 billion provided annually since at least 2012.[101] With U.S. military aid, Palestine’s suffering at the hands of U.S.-backed Israel remains “the most accomplished form of necropower [death-dealing power].”[102] It renders Palestinians “the mirror image of all expelled and oppressed peoples everywhere,”[103] with a status of “the victims of the victims,”[104] and also risks destruction and war for both Israelis and U.S. citizens in the Middle East. Some Christian U.S. denominational groups, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), have taken on this urgent issue of Palestine’s repression.[105] Given the power of Christian Zionism in the U.S., and of its “Holy Land” ideologies, the need is great for Protestant churches and seminaries to challenge the U.S.-Israel alliance, which now includes alliances with other authoritarian and nationalist regimes in Saudi Arabia, India and Guatemala. Again, the need is for a thinking and resistance that is both local and global in its challenge to U.S. world-impacting militarism.

“Given the power of Christian Zionism in the U.S., and of its ‘Holy Land’ ideologies, the need is great for Protestant churches and seminaries to challenge the U.S.-Israel alliance, which now includes alliances with other authoritarian and nationalist regimes in Saudi Arabia, India and Guatemala.”

Among all the major structural issues faced by the U.S. at the time of Martin Luther King’s Riverside Church address in 1967, King identified U.S. militarism serving U.S. economic interests as being “the far deeper malady of the American spirit.”[106] Not to redress, to mend or heal that malady is for the Seminary to fail in achieving the most fundamental of aims we might dare term “salvific” or “just.” To remain silent about this U.S. militarism, as a theological institution or as citizen of the United States, is for Christians to enlist once again in service to the forces of enmity and destruction humanity and nature.

Fourth, PTS needs to graft into its response to the ABS Call a critical resistance to hegemonic masculinism in theological education and Christian churches. Hegemonic masculinism afflicts not only the society generally, but our churches and Christian organizations too. In his fine analysis of the history of reparations movements, UCLA historian Robin D. G. Kelley argues that “The reparations movement ought to compel us. . . to pay attention to the centrality of racism in the U.S. political economy . . .  and also make us look at gender . . .” This is “because men and women did not experience exploitation in the same manner. We need to consider things like women’s unpaid labor, reproduction, sexual abuse and ways to make restitution  for these distinctive forms of exploitation, especially for women from communities  of color. At the very least, the reparations movement ought to clarify issues like what constitutes a “family” if payments are to be made to such units, or how we might imagine remaking relationships between men and women, boys and girl, adults and children . . .”. Kelley then adds, “Unfortunately most arguments in support of reparations scarcely mention gender.”[107] In theological education, we will need to find modes of redress in church and theological education for the exploitation of black women and of other women of color that is also a part of the legacy of U.S. slavery. Funding should be increased for the PTS Center for Women, Theology and Gender with a restructuring that emphasizes the need to redress slavery’s continuing impact on women of color. Educational institutions can be helped toward such proposals by engaging other proposals for reparations, as in the Movement4BlackLives, especially when it addresses the needs of those suffering gender and sexual abuse and discrimination.[108] And this takes us to the final suggestion.

” ‘The reparations movement ought to compel us. . . to pay attention to the centrality of racism in the U.S. political economy . . .  and also make us look at gender . . .’. Robin D. G. Kelley”

Fifth, and perhaps as the greatest challenge, PTS and other Christian institutions of theological learning will have to transcend theological institutions’ legacies of Christian supremacy. Recall, Christian supremacy has played a crucial role in the rise and maintenance of white supremacy and of other modes of subjugation intertwining in slavery’s apparatus and legacy. This will be a great challenge, because it requires Christians to lay aside their self-understanding of themselves as the key, first agents of transformation. Too often it is assumed by Christians that their social work has to be understood as first and foremost inaugurated by their God, often their Jesus. This supremacist attitude is a missionizing one that Christians often take into their social justice organizing, if they move toward such. Christians who might critique and dismantle Christian supremacy are challenged here to enter into proactive collaboration with those of other religions and spiritualities and with secular persons of conscience who also are in struggle for reparations. Especially on the matter of redressing slavery’s legacy, PTS and theological institutions generally, cannot go it alone. We must reach out through respectful and self-critical coalition building. There can be no Christian triumphalism that presupposes that Christian beliefs and cherished experiences must be the progenitors of needed change. In fact, many existing movements for reparations as restitution for slavery are often ahead of many Christian institutions in demanding restitution and reparations.

“Christians who might . . . dismantle Christian supremacy are challenged here to enter into proactive collaboration with those of other religions and spiritualities and with secular persons of conscience who also are in struggle for reparations.”

The ABS Call already points in the direction of a broader collaboration and inter-dependence with other groups. The Call highlights needed “Partnerships” with historically Black colleges, universities and seminaries (3.a), and with West African universities and seminaries (3.b). The PTS faculty and administration need to take even further this impetus in The Call, and implant in a response certain concrete modes of collaborating in inter-religious and secular projects of racial justice work. Specific centers and institutions for inter-religious and religious/secular interchange are necessary. They are just as necessary as is PTS’s Center for Black Church Studies, or its Center for Theology, Women and Gender. On the matter of PTS’s exploration of reparations issues, a national conference on the seminary campus, with representatives from many religions and none, would be a significant step in the necessary direction. To coordinate this work, and in relation to the other modes of subjugation that are co-constitutive of slavery’s legacy, we will need something like that Princeton Abolitionist Policy Center (PAPC) that I have already mentioned. Further and more detailed consultation, experimentation, and imaginative planning are necessary. But the goal of the PAPC, working in the legacy of abolitionists like PTS’s own Theodore Wright and Elijah Lovejoy, would be to institute at the Seminary a Center that would give formal and concrete shape to concentrated research and concrete action that challenges the power network that is both national and global in the U.S. today, and that is the rogue outcome of slavery and its legacy. The PAPC would remain Christian and theological, even as its research and intellectual life was broadly public and political, in both thought and action. It could be a Christian theological institution’s version of, to take one example, the Institute for Policy Studies, which describes itself as “as a policy and research resource for visionary social justice movements— from the anti-war and civil rights movements in the 1960s to the peace and global justice movements of today.” The Seminary’s PAPC, emergent from a new abolitionist theological imaginary, and rooted in a resolve to organize and fight with contemporary movements of churches and other religious and secular peoples of conscience, could operate to struggle against and move beyond the destructive legacy of slavery and its multiple modes of subjugation still at work today.

” . . . we will need something like that Princeton Abolitionist Policy Center (PAPC) . . . that would give formal and concrete shape to concentrated research and concrete action . . . , that challenges the power network that is . . .  the rogue outcome of slavery and its legacy.”

Again I stress that to fully institute such a Princeton Abolitionist Policy Center, or really to ground any concrete and structurally impactful resistance to slavery’s legacy, the Seminary will need in both its thinking and action to lay aside the Christian supremacism that has informed and constituted its past. In fact, it is by transcending Christian supremacy that we can actually strengthen our resistance to slavery’s legacy. As Angela Y. Davis suggests, based on tracing Bessie Smith’s blues spirit, we await a new creative transformation, one that is “spiritually coexistent with and simultaneously antithetical to Christian religious practices.”[109] Admittedly, that is a difficult space, one fraught with embracing seeming contradictions and imagining new ways of relating to the Christian message and communities. It must remain beyond the scope of this essay to clarify more what this tensive space might be.[110] This is a complex matter because it not only is to live beyond Christian supremacy, it also calls for more than simply embracing a facile “all roads lead to God” formula. But interpreting and researching within the paradigm of abolition-struggle can take us into this tension-filled, creative space toward which Davis points, thus beckoning us anew to live against slavery’s legacy.

“This is a complex matter because it not only is to live beyond Christian supremacy, it also calls for more than simply embracing a facile ‘all roads lead to God’ formula.”


In sum, what might it look like to do research into our institutions’ roots in slavery? At its best, this research becomes and acknowledges that it is animated by and indebted to slavery-resisting, abolition struggle. Working in a paradigm of this struggle will mean respecting and following the insights of those who actually embody the memory of that struggle today and the resilient power that pulses in the seething presence of those who remember the bloody and cruel apparatus of slavery. They remind us too of slavery’s ever-repeating creation of new modes of confinement and enslavement. Abolition struggle reaching into our present in these ways can prompt a liberating of the “buried knowledges” and of the “disqualified knowledges” that still haunt our institutions. This haunting is a productive spectral force for our research and for the acts of restitution that promise institutional transformation. Our research, which entails exposés, truth-telling and archival production, and as leading to acts of reconciliation, memorialization, redress and restitution, can then be seen as a participation in an insurrection of subjugated knowledges. The fullness of that insurrectionary knowledge arises from the multidimensional vision and practices of the abolition struggle, past and present. The ABS Restitution Call challenges Princeton Seminary and other institutions to build its actions toward the fullness of that unfolding abolitionist task.

[1] The Seminary’s report is entitled “Princeton Theological Seminary and Slavery: A Report of the Historical Audit Committee,” April 2018, online at . For the “Universities Studying Slavery” (USS) website, see In April of 2019 I was a respondent to a panel of three other scholars from three major universities who are part of that consortium of fifty plus institutions. The three scholars were professors of history Jody L. Allen of William & Mary, Adam Rothman of Georgetown University and Martha A. Sandweiss of Princeton University. The conference was entitled, “Legacy and Mission: Theological Education and the History of Slavery,” Princeton Theological Seminary, April 8-9, 2019, Princeton, NJ.

[2] Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 1 and 594n2.

[3] Ibid. 266, 267, 269.

[4] Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, full passage in Antonio Gramsci, Quaderni del Carcere (Turin: Einaudi Editore, 1975), 2: 1363. Gramsci citation in Edward Said, Orientalism (Vintage Press 1975), 25 (emphases added).

[5] See Theodore Sedgwick Wright’s critique which “rejected colonization on several grounds.” “Princeton Theological Seminary and Slavery: A Report of the Historical Audit Committee,” April 2018, .

[6] President’s Commission on Slavery and the University .

[7] Camilla Townsend, “’I am Old and Weak . . .  and You Are Young and Strong . . . ‘: The Intersecting Histories of Rutgers University and the Lenni Lenape,” in The Scarlet and the Black, Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History, eds. Marisa J. Fuentes and Deborah Gray White. Rutgers U Press, 2016, 6-42. For more extensive accounts of indigenous dispossession as precursor to slave-based higher education in North American colonies, see Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony and Ivory: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America’s Universities (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013), 1-45.

[8] See note 7 for Georgetown’s site. For Princeton, see “The Princeton & Slavery Project,” at

[9] Georgetown University website, “Georgetown to Rename Building after Isaac Hawkins, one of the 272 enslaved in 1838 sale,” April 13, 2017, at (accessed June 1, 2019).

[10] See “The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation,” .

[11] On colonizationists’ repression and surveillance of abolitionist students and organizers, see Wilder, 266-67.

[12] In addition to the Seminary report, see the older account by Henry Tanner, The Martyrdom of Lovejoy: An Account of the Life, Trials and Perils of Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy who was Killed by a Pro-Slavery Mob . . . (Chicago: Fergus Printing Co., 1881).

[13] Princeton Seminary’s Association of Black Seminarians (ABS) have made a call for restitution, requesting such tuition coverage. See “PTS Black Students Call for 15% of Endowment as Reparations,” (accessed June 19, 2010).

[14] Edward Ball, “Plantation Memories,” in Ball, 7-21.

[15] Sinha, 1-2.

[16] Ibid. 266, 267, 269.

[17] Ibid. 196-97, 460.

[18] Ibid. 585.

[19] These are often referenced throughout his work, but most explicitly taken up in a 1976 lecture in a collection, Michel Foucault, ‘Society Must Be Defended’: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975- 1976. Trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 1997), 6-11.

[20] Ibid. 7

[21] On the notion of “cultural genocide” in Indian history of the U.S., see George Tinker, Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 126n9.

[22] K. Tsianina Lomawaima, American Indian Boarding School Experiences,1879- 2000 . 2nd edition (Heard Museum, 2000).

[23] See especially Robert Laird Stewart, Sheldon Jackson: Pathfinder and Prospector of the Missionary Vanguard in the Rocky Mountains and Alaska. Illustrated (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1908).

[24] Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended,” 7.

[25] On the notion of “exclusive inclusion” see Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 21-22.

[26] Foucault, 8.

[27] Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013), 266.

[28] Sinha, 245.

[29] Ibid. 8.

[30] Erin Grey, Asad Heider, Ben Mabie, editors, The Black Radical Tradition (London: Verso Books, 2020). This volume will offer a broad understanding of the black radical tradition that catches up works like that of Enrique Dussel’s Ethics of Liberation in the Age of Oppression and Exclusion, Rey Chow’s The World as Target, Edward Said’s Culture of Imperialism and The Question of Palestine, Lisa Lowe’s The Intimacy of Four Continents, and Alex Lubin’s Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary.

[31] Cedric J. Robinson, Forgeries of Memory and Meaning: Blacks and the Regimes of Race in American Theater & Film before World War II (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007), xii (citing Edward Said, The World, The Text, and the Critic (Harvard University Press1983), 246-47.

[32] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method. German 1965. 2nd revised edition (New York: Continuum, 20114), 335-55.

[33] Avery F. Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Second edition (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2008), 8, 17, 21, 157, 195 (emphasis added).

[34] Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey through the Atlantic Slave Route. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Girous, 2008), 6.

[35] W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. Originally 1935. With introduction by David Levering Lewis (New York: Free Press, 1992), 678.

[36] Marie Gottschalk, Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics. Revised edition (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016).

[37] See The Abolition – A Journal of Insurgent Politics. .

[38] Princeton Seminary & Slavery, “Lessons, Implications and Recommendations,” .

[39] Sinha 130-31, citing Richard S. Newman and Roy E. Finkenbine, “Black Founders in the New Republic,” William & Mary Quarterly 64 (January 2007): 83-94 (emphases added).

[40] Sinha, 246.

[41] For this paper I assume that readers will grant that slavery reinforced and was constituted by, white supremacy and antiblackness as a subjugating regime. This regime is then further reinforced, made more brutal and complex by the other four modes of subjugation that I also examine here. For those needing confirmation of the operation of white racism/antiblackness in slavery, see Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2016), and Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Representation and the Meaning of Liberty (New York: Random House, 1977), 22-55. On the need to think antiblackness supremacy” alongside “white supremacy,” see Kathryn Walker Grimes, Christ Divided: Antiblackness as Corporate Vice (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019), xii-xxxv, 1-61.

[42] On the notion of race and white supremacy in relation to colonialism and its various regimes, see Patrick Wolfe, Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race (London: Verso Books, 2016). 271-72; and Nikhil Pal Singh, Race and America’s Long War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017), 123-51

[43] Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 244.

[44] In addition to Beckert, see Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014), Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013), and Caitlyn Rosenthal, Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019).

[45] Eric Williams,  Slavery & Capitalism. Original 1944. With a New Introduction by Colin A Palmer (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1994).

[46] Sinha, 352.

[47] Baptist, 143.

[48] Robinson, Black Marxism, 2-3.

[49] Marie Gottschalk, Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics. Princeton University Press, 2016).

[50] Jackie Wang, Carceral Capitalism. Semiotext(e) Intervention Series (South Pasadena CA: Semiotext(e), 2018).

[51] Shane Bauer, American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment (New York: Penguin Press, 2018), 55-61, 150-57, 196-200.

[52] Sinha, 347.

[53] Ibid. 352-58.

[54]Caitlin Rosenthal, “The Perils of Big Data: How crunching numbers can lead to moral blunders,” Washington Post, February 18, 2019.

[55] Caitlin Rosenthal, Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018), 205 (emphasis added).

[56] Glen Ford, “Reparations Means Global Social Transformation” Black Agenda Report, March 21, 2019, penultimate paragraph (emphasis added).

[57] Carter writes, “The tragedy is that whiteness continues to reign as the inner architecture of modern theology, and a fortiori theology continues to function as a discourse of death.” See J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 377. Jennings, writes, “. . . Christianity in the Western world lives and moves within a diseased social imagination. . .one must look more deliberatively at the soil in which the modern theological imagination grew and where it continues to find its deeper social nutrients. One crucial site where I have watched the display of this interrupted social imagination is in the theological academy.” Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010), 6, 7.

[58] Jeannine Hill Fletcher, The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism, & Religious Diversity in America (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017), 3-4. See especially Fletcher’s chapter 1, “How Christian Supremacy Gave Birth to White Supremacy,” 1-44.

[59] Fletcher, 42.

[60] Fletcher, 33, commenting on Thomas Noble, “Only Exclusivism Will Do: Gavin D’Costa’s Change of Mind,” Wesleyan Theological Review 48, no. 1 (Spring 2013): 67.

[61] Sylviane A. Diouf, Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas (New York: NYU Press, 2013); Edward E. Curtis, Muslims in America: A Short History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). For an extensive bibliography on Muslims among America’s enslaved, and their roles in slave revolts, see Greg Grandin, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014), 330n16.

[62] Robert J. Allison, The Crescent Obscured: The United States & The Muslim World, 1776-1815 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 35.

[63] Wilder, p. 257, 396n27.

[64] Wilder, 258.

[65] Alexander T. McGill, D. D. LL.D, “Patriotism, Philanthropy and Religion,” An Address before the American Colonization Society, January 10, 1877 (Washington, D. C.: Colonization Building, 1877), 3-4, 9.

[66] Michael C. Coleman,  Presbyterian Missionary Attitudes toward American Indians, 1837-1893. U Press of Mississippi, 1985).

[67] For the roles of Muslims in slave revolts, see Grandin, 330n16.

[68] Sinha, 130-37.

[69] Joy Schulz, Hawaiians By Birth: Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity and U.S. Colonialism in the Pacific (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2017). Historian Schulz writes that “As part of the revivalist fervor sweeping the United States during the first two decades  of the nineteenth century, young Americans – almost all college and seminary graduates – eagerly gave away their earthly possessions in order to qualify for Christian missionary service” (17); and “That the first president of the Hawaiian Republic was the missionary son Sanford Dole reveals the codependence of the religious and economic ideals by which nineteenth-century American missionary families in the Hawaiian Islands determined their support for and participation in the birth of an American empire in the Pacific” (44). For the larger context of U.S. missions and “The Sandwich Islands Mission,” see chapter 4 in John A. Andrew, III, Rebuilding the Christian Commonwealth: New England Congregationalists and Foreign Missions, 1800-1830 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1976), 131-32.

[70] To further secure the point, see Jennings arguments concerning Protestant hymn-writer Isaac Watts: “once salvation was imagined territorially it was also imagined racially and drew vernacularization and racial formation into tight collaboration” (217). In Watts era, this was for the sake of British colonization and imperialism. Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 210-19, especially p. 217.

[71] One of the most influential among U.S. missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands was the Hiram Bingham family and its descendants involved in U.S. politics with a U.S. naval ship named for Hiram Bingham, the Liberty Ship SS Hiram Bingham during World War II. See Roberts Liardon, God’s Generals: the Missionaries (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2014), chapter 5 (unpaginated).

[72] Thomas Jefferson, quoted in Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Merriweather Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 341.

[73] Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014), 164.

[74] Ibid. 219-20. On “settler ranger forces” described by Dunbar-Ortiz, see 63-4.

[75] Check for your ancestors’ names in the the fine-print, two-volume, 1,590-page (double column) catalogue of U.S. Indian war volunteers in Virgil D. White, Transcriber, Index to Volunteer Soldiers in Indian Wars and Disturbances, 1815-1858. Volume I, A-K and Volume II, L-Z (Waynesboro, TN: The National Historical Publishing Company, 1994). For the earlier period, see the 437-page compilation by Virgil D. White, Transcriber, Index to Volunteer Soldiers, 1784-1811 (Waynesboro, TN: The National Historical Publishing Company, 1987).

[76] Robert Laird Stewart, Sheldon Jackson: Pathfinder and Prospector of the Missionary Vanguard in the Rocky Mountains and Alaska London (New York, London and Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1908), 12, 13. Stewart names numerous other missionaries as part of the “missionary vanguard” – Marcus Whitman, George F. Whitworth and A. L. Lindsley of Oregon, Lewis Hamilton of Colorado, David Lyon of Minnesota, Lancet G. Bell and A. K. Baird  of Iowa, John W. Allen of Missouri, Henry S. Little of Texas, Thomas Frazer of the Pacific coast, Timothy Hill of Kansas and the Indian Territory. Stewart, 14. Some of those listed by Stewart here could profess opposition to slavery (notably Hill in Kansas) but they remained missionaries devoted to both U.S. Christianization and empire.

[77] Coleman, 163, 165. On Hodge’s repudiation of racist science theories of polygenesis of this time, see Coleman, 164.

[78] Sinha, 375.

[79] Ibid. 479

[80] Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004), and David Vine, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World (New York: Metropolitan books, 2015. More recent is Northwestern University historian, Daniel Immerwahr, How to Hide and Empire: A History of the Greater United States (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2019).

[81] I have developed elsewhere the notion of hegemonic masculinism in critical engagement with Sabo, Kuper and London’s notion of “hegemonic masculinity,” in Don Sabo, Terry A. Kupers, Willie London, Prison Masculinities (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001), 5-9. Here I summarize hegemonic masculinism as featuring four major components: (1) constructing “heteronormativity” in accord with a male/female binary, “male” and “female” being posited as a kind of founding opposition that is promoted and sustained as the basic structure for living and thinking about human intimate bonding for family and relational life, (2) promoting and guarding a “masculinist” dynamic that entails the material and symbolic privileging of the male aspect of the binary, designating for males the roles of authority, sexual agency and rule in communal, social and political governance, while designating to the female aspect purity, passivity and needs for protection (in spite of a centuries-long and varied subversion of and resistance to this masculinism by those marked as “women,” (3) maintaining a “hegemonic” mode of power-holding by which the aforementioned masculinism achieves a certain consensus between men and women, this being a mode of power-holding that Gramsci termed “hegemonic,” i.e. not just power-over but also a kind of “power-between” based on continual ideological maintenance of the consensus (sometimes fragile) between “men” and “women,” and (4) continuous mobilizing of affective/libidinal energies which reinforce the entire “hegemonic masculinism” described above in (1)-(3), and which then animate additional techniques of subjugating “others” in white supremacy, capitalism, Christian and other forms of religious supremacy, nationalism and imperialism. On the power of libidinal affectivity in colonization and imperialism, see Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York: Routledge, 1995), especially 75-131. On this libidinal power in U.S. wars and imperialism, see Amy Kaplan, The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), especially chapter 1, “Manifest Domesticity” (23-50), and chapter 3, “Romancing the Empire” (92-120). On the heteronormative libidinal force in capitalism, see David F. Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 347-96.

[82] James H. Moorhead, Princeton Seminary in American Religion and Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012), 163, 162..

[83] Ibid. 164.

[84] Moorhead, 166, citing Ashbel Green, The Christian Duty of Christian Women: A Discourse Delivered in the Church of Princeton, New Jersey, August 23, 1825, before the Princeton Female Society.

[85] Moorhead, 169, citing Hodge, “West India Emancipation,” Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 10 (1838): 603-4.

[86] Moorhead, 167, citing Archibald Alexander, “Lectures on the Difficulties of Religion,” Biblical Repertory and Theological Review (1836): 515-45.

[87] Moorhead, 168. Alexander also faulted Beecher’s “tendency to weaken the doctrine of justification, to play down the role of the Holy Spirit, and to exalt the role of human agency in salvation” (Moorhead, 167).

[88] Sinha, 266, 267, 269.

[89] Moorhead, 169.

[90] Charles Hodge, cited in Moorhead, 169.

[91] Moorhead, 169.

[92] Association of Black Seminarians (ABS), “Response to the Princeton Seminary Slavery Audit,” paragraph no. 1


[93] Robin D. G. Kelley, “’A Day of Reckoning:’ Dreams of Reparations,” in Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), 110-111.

[94] On this structural intervention of the global economy within the United States society and economy, see Stephen Nathan Haymes, María Vidal de Haymes and Reuben Jonathan Miller, The Routledge Handbook of Poverty in the United States  (London and New York: Routledge, 2015).

[95] W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 (New York: The Free Press, 1935), 15.

[96] Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006.

[97] On this inter-continental cadre of workers, see on “the motley crew” Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000). For the articulation of U.S. slavery’s political economy which quickly pulled into new imperial systems of exploitation, sdee Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 14-16.

[98] Peter B. Kraska, “Militarization and Policing – Its Relevance to 21st Century Police,” Policing  – A Journal of Policy and Practice 1, no. 4 (2007): 501-13.

[99] See former CIA analyst and historian Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004), 203-2007.

[100] Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: One World Press, 2006), 1-9.

[101] Security Assistance Monitor: A Citizens Guide to U.S. Security and Defense Assistance, “Pivot Table by Recipient,” 2012-2020, at

[102] Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” Political Culture 15 (1): 11-40. Duke University Press, 2003, p. 27.

[103] Elias Khoury, “Foreword,” in The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History. Bashir Bashir and Amos Goldberg, eds. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), xvi. See also Mark Levene, “Harbingers of Jewish and Palestinian Disasters: European Nation-State Building and Its Toxic Legacies, 1912-1948,” pages 45-65.

[104] Edward Said, “The One-State Solution,” New York Times Magazine, January 10, 1999.

[105] Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Why Palestine Matters: The Struggle to End Colonialism. Published at, 2018.

[106] Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Time to Break Silence,” Riverside Church New York City, April 6, 1967, in James Washington, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: HarperCollins, 1986), 240.

[107] Robin D. G. Kelley,  Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), 131-32. See also “Reproduction in Bondage” in Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, 22-55.

[108] See “An End to the War on Black Trans, Queer and Gender Nonconforming People, Including their Addition (sic) to Anti­-Discrimination Civil Rights Protections to Ensure Full Access to Employment, Health, Housing and Education,” A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom and Justice. (accessed June 23, 2019).

[109] Angela Y. Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday (Pantheon Books, 1998), 129.

[110] On the issue of Christian faith’s distinctive claims in an intercultural and interreligious world see two earlier essays of mine, Mark Lewis Taylor  “Religion, Cultural Plurality and Liberating Praxis,” Journal of Religion. Vol. 71. No. 2 (April 1991): 145-66, and “The Liminal Christ and Cultural Pluralism,” Theology Today (April 1986): 36-51.


Share this on Facebook