Would the Rev. Patrick Healy, Who Passed for White, Want to Be Celebrated as a Black Hero?

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2021-04-18 23:14Z by Steven

Would the Rev. Patrick Healy, Who Passed for White, Want to Be Celebrated as a Black Hero?

Faithfully Magazine
2020-10-13

Alexandria Griffin, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion
New College of Florida, Sarasota, Florida


Father Patrick Francis Healy, S.J., was the first African American to receive a doctorate degree and the first to be president of a predominantly White university when he became president of Georgetown University in 1872. (Photo: Blake Photography/Public domain)

Patrick Healy never directly addressed questions of what his racial identity might have been in the written record he left behind. However, he wrote on a few occasions about “blacks” or “negroes” in a tone that seems to indicate that he saw them as a group he did not belong to.

In 2015 and 2016, Georgetown University became enmeshed in conversations about race taking place at college campuses across the United States. At Georgetown, conversation centered on the institution’s history with slavery, which had been an integral part of its early years, with much of the labor on campus falling to enslaved people.

The focus was the sale of 272 enslaved African Americans in 1838, a sale undertaken by Jesuits Thomas F. Mulledy and William McSherry with the intent to accrue enough money to pay off some of the school’s debts and keep it open. This sale resulted in the breakup of numerous families, and the majority were sold into the Deep South, where they were subjected to harsher conditions of forced agricultural labor. The sale was controversial at the time but eventually largely faded from the memory of White Catholics. (As Shannen Dee Williams, historian at Villanova University and originator of the Twitter hashtag #BlackHistoryIsCatholicHistory, has pointed out, what many people now think of as new information about religious orders owning enslaved people never faded from the memories of Black Catholics.)

Moreover, discussion also included broader issues around Georgetown’s relationship to slavery, including buildings named after slaveholding faculty, and on what actions might be taken to acknowledge and make amends for this history. A number of initiatives grew out of this; a working group made archival resources on slavery at Georgetown available online and researched the fates of those sold in 1838, the school held an apology ceremony attended by community members and descendants of those sold, and buildings named after Mulledy and McSherry were renamed. Additionally, the school opted to grant descendants of those sold in 1838 preferential admission. More recently, students voted to add a student fee to go toward reparations for descendants of those enslaved at Georgetown. The future of the fee and how or whether it will be implemented remains uncertain. The university has recently committed to raising $400,000 annually toward reparations, which some students feel is too little.

Patrick Francis Healy: Legally Enslaved, Passing for White

One figure has been strangely absent from this conversation: Patrick Francis Healy, the university’s 29th president. In November of 1853, Healy, then a young Jesuit in training, sent a letter to an older Jesuit and mentor, George Fenwick. He wrote from his teaching post at College of the Holy Cross: “Father, I will be candid with you. Placed in a college as I am, are boys who were well acquainted with by sight or hearsay, with me + my brothers, remarks are sometimes made (then if not in my hearing) which wound my very heart. You know to what I refer. The anxiety of mind caused by these is very intense.”…

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Instead, it’s because he was born mixed-race, on a Georgia plantation, to a wealthy Irish father who looked after his welfare and paid tuition for several children to attend Catholic schools, that the brilliant Patrick Healy could become the Jesuit university’s most celebrated President.

Posted in New Media on 2020-09-12 01:08Z by Steven

Had [Patrick Francis] Healy been born in Maryland, he could have been sold along with the 272 individuals Georgetown [University] President Thomas Mulledy sold in 1838. Instead, it’s because he was born mixed-race, on a Georgia plantation, to a wealthy Irish father who looked after his welfare and paid tuition for several children to attend Catholic schools, that the brilliant Patrick Healy could become the Jesuit university’s most celebrated President. The black lives held in bondage by the Jesuits in 1838 did not matter to Mulledy. Healy and his brothers, however, did matter to him.

Bryan Greene, “Born Enslaved, Patrick Francis Healy ‘Passed’ His Way to Lead Georgetown University,” Smithsonian Magazine, September 8, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/born-enslaved-patrick-francis-healy-passed-his-way-lead-georgetown-university-180975738/.

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Born Enslaved, Patrick Francis Healy ‘Passed’ His Way to Lead Georgetown University

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2020-09-11 02:22Z by Steven

Born Enslaved, Patrick Francis Healy ‘Passed’ His Way to Lead Georgetown University

Smithsonian Magazine
2020-09-08

Bryan Greene
Washington, D.C.


Because the 19th-century college president appeared white, he was able to climb the ladder of the Jesuit community

This back-to-school season, as the coronavirus pandemic demands continued social distancing, many college students are logging onto their classes remotely. While the country fights this public health crisis on one front, it fights the ongoing effects of systemic racism on another, and the battle is joined on America’s college campuses, where skyrocketing tuition costs, debates over academic freedom, and reckonings with the legacies of institutional racism come together.

The University of North Carolina, for instance, has had to tackle both crises this summer, as it shuttered dorms and sent students home after Covid-19 cases spiked soon after opening. In July, administrators approved guidelines for renaming buildings that currently honor North Carolinians who promoted the murderous 1898 overthrow of Wilmington’s elected multiracial government. In June, meanwhile, Princeton acceded to longstanding demands to strip Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school, since his most notorious public policy as President of the United States was to segregate the federal workforce. Following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, an ever-widening circle of students on campuses nationwide are re-examining their institutions’ unquestioned genuflection to their white-supremacist heritage.

But at Georgetown University, students, faculty, alumni, and administration have been re-appraising the school’s racist past for years. In 1838, when the Jesuit school was deep in debt, its president, Reverend Thomas F. Mulledy, on behalf of the Maryland Jesuits, sold 272 black men, women and children to Louisiana plantations to keep the school afloat. Three years ago, Georgetown pulled Mulledy’s name off a dormitory, replacing it with the name of enslaved laborer Isaac Hawkins. Georgetown will now consider applicants who are descendants of these enslaved persons in the same light as the children of faculty, staff and alumni for purposes of admission.

What makes Georgetown’s reflective moment most remarkable, however, and complicated, is that 35 years after Mulledy salvaged the school’s finances by selling human property, the school would be led by a man who, himself, was born enslaved. The story of Georgetown president Reverend Patrick Francis Healy reveals how a university built by enslaved persons, and rescued from collapse by the sale of enslaved persons, saw its “second founding” in the late 19th century under the guidance of a man whom the Jesuits knew had been born black but helped “pass” as white

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QUALLEN: Healy’s Inner Turmoil, Our Current Conflict

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, History, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2016-01-31 02:31Z by Steven

QUALLEN: Healy’s Inner Turmoil, Our Current Conflict

The Hoya
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
2015-11-20

Matthew Quallen, “Hoya Historian”
School of Foreign Service

Last week, President DeGioia accepted a recommendation to scrub the names Mulledy and McSherry from university buildings. The names Freedom and Remembrance took their places. Mulledy and McSherry symbolized what was most odious about Georgetown and the Maryland Jesuits’ history — the conclusion of a century of contest and deliberation about slavery, manumission and race with a mad dash towards a propitious sale.

By contrast, Healy Hall and its namesake, Fr. Patrick Healy, stand as foils in our memory. Healy, after all, was the first black president of a predominantly white institution, as the accolade goes. But for Healy, who desperately toed the opposite side of the color line the situation, was more complicated.

Fr. Patrick Healy was born in 1834 to Mary Eliza — a biracial former slave who had been purchased out of captivity by her soon-to-be husband, Michael. Michael Healy owned 49 slaves on a plantation in Macon, Ga. It was from his mother Mary Eliza that Patrick Healy inherited his vital if contrived one drop rule, which legally classified an individual as black if they possessed even “one drop” of black blood for the purposes of racially discriminating statutes. In his home state, the law considered Patrick Healy to be a slave (such status was usually maternal). So his selection as president of Georgetown in 1873 was nothing short of remarkable. It encapsulates a story of a rise to prominence unexpected for a black American in the mid-19th century. It also mistakenly post-dates Georgetown’s racial progress to 1873, although that transformation came much later…

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