October 1, 2020
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Letter from William Green Plantation Committee on recent controversy

Dear students, staff and faculty at the College,

We are aware of the concerns about the Green Plantation. We want to state up front that our group is formed of faculty across a number of departments and is committed to raising awareness about slavery in the northeast. Our intention has always been and is to recover and highlight the lives of formerly enslaved individuals that may have been trafficked through this region.

Friday, in her weekly “missive,” President Foster highlighted the on-going research being conducted by faculty and students on the William Green Plantation. The committee would like to expand on the information provided and address some of the questions that missive has raised, and the justified concerns about the house itself.

We first want to applaud our students’ immediate response and call to action.  We are fortunate to have such passionate students at the College committed to racial justice and equality. These types of actions help to create change for a better, inclusive college, and are always welcomed.  We encourage all of our students to always speak out for important causes.

Here is some additional information about our committee and our research. Our committee was formed in Spring 2019 for the purpose of investigating the history of the family who built and lived in what has historically been called the William Green House. Our goal was to find evidence of slave ownership on the property itself.  This is a task we are all very passionate about.  In the Fall of 2019 faculty and students spent countless hours in the New Jersey State archives, the Mudd Library at Princeton University and the Ewing Township Historical Society reading through hundreds of pages of 18th and 19th century documents.  Small discoveries along the way confirmed that the Green family owned slaves, but it wasn’t until March 2020, just before we left campus for COVID-19, that we discovered documents that appear to show that enslaved people lived at the plantation. We shared some of this preliminary information at the School of Humanities and Social Science’s Celebration of Student Achievement presentation in May. We know, however, that we have only scratched the surface. While the research looks promising, there is still much more we need to learn about this site and the family that lived there.

Research takes time. We are only at the beginning of a long process.  We believe there is more out there: names, dates and more information on the enslaved people who formed the foundation of the economy of Trenton and Ewing in the 18th and 19th centuries. We want to find out who these individuals were so that we can rightfully remember and honor them.  We hope that more students will join our research efforts to bring to light this part of our history.   

One of the questions we continually ask ourselves is: what does the physical house itself represent? As a group, we adamantly believe that, once restored, the name of the house shouldn’t honor a slave owner. We see several opportunities: to tell the story of enslaved people in Ewing; to connect that story to the larger history of slavery in New Jersey; to engage the community with the history of this region; and eventually to turn this space into some kind of center for the study of African Americans and social justice. (The exact focus of such a center would most likely depend on what our research turns up in the next few years and what the College and surrounding communities suggest.)

In restoring the house, we have a chance to walk with school children from surrounding communities through a house that may have housed enslaved people. We have a chance to teach the public about this part of history.

If restored, a section of the house could be set up as it looked in colonial times and serve to educate everyone on the history of systemic racism and inequality.  By restoring the house and incorporating new research in an educational space, we envision that visitors will be able to see researchers working to understand the issues that New Jersey still faces today. Our project is founded on the hope that this house can become a chance to honor people who were enslaved not just at this property but throughout New Jersey.  We aim to contribute to nationwide efforts to expose how academic institutions benefitted from slavery. We want students and researchers working in such a space to be inspired and driven by understanding the history of those before them at the house.

We’ve only just begun, and ahead of us there are many hours of collecting archival documents to fully understand the story of the enslaved people of New Jersey.  But we have made great strides.  We welcome this conversation and hope that you will join the efforts to leave behind a new legacy of this house, a legacy that teaches students about this history, that provides a space for research and action in confronting anti-black racism, a legacy that reclaims the space for social justice.

Our task is urgent and imperative, and we don’t take it lightly.  It will also take painstaking but rewarding scholarly work, which we look forward to conducting with our students, our colleagues and the larger community.   

Sincerely,
The William Green Plantation Committee

George Leader, Sociology and Anthropology
Winnie Brown-Glaude, African American Studies
Craig Hollander, History
Zakiya Adair, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and African American Studies
Mekala Audain, History
Janet Gray, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies
David Blake, English
Cynthia Paces, History

1 Comment on Letter from William Green Plantation Committee on recent controversy

  1. I really enjoyed this read, especially the emphasis on how research is ongoing and your committee is still in the midst of exploring this building’s history. I also want to say I love the idea that this building, instead of being torn down, could serve as a tool to educate people. Tearing it down will just create a hole on the campus but repurposing and reclaiming it would be much more impactful. A symbol of exploring our history and learning from it.

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