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Hopkins and slavery: No atonement needed

Johns Hopkins (1795-1873) was a successful merchant and investor who included provisions in his will to finance Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital. This oval portrait of Hopkins as a young man is in the collection of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
Johns Hopkins (1795-1873) was a successful merchant and investor who included provisions in his will to finance Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital. This oval portrait of Hopkins as a young man is in the collection of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. (Baltimore Sun)

In her recent commentary, Jennie Williams asserts that Johns Hopkins University is obliged to enact policies that would be a form of compensation for having accepted donations from a woman whose deceased husband had been a major figure in the pre-Civil War slave-trading industry (“JHU, too, must atone for its slavery connection,” Feb. 15).

Johns Hopkins, the man, died in 1873. In his will, he showed great awareness of the sufferings of former slaves. Indeed, as a boy who grew up on his father’s tobacco farm, about 25 miles south of Baltimore, Hopkins took over the work slaves had been doing when his Quaker father, in 1803, freed them.

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After he moved to Baltimore as a young man, Hopkins made a lot of money as a wholesale grocer and investor, especially in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He had servants, not slaves, and in his will very generously provided for them. He also provided the funds for the founding of the hospital and the university. Aware also of smaller needs, he stated that the hospital was to have facilities for the reception, care of, and education of colored children orphaned and destitute.

In post-Civil War Baltimore, Hopkins was well aware of all the freed slaves in the city, thousands of whom would be wandering the streets — lost and destitute. To help them, he provided money for the Baltimore Orphan Asylum for Colored Children and also the Baltimore Home for the Friendless.

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JHU does not have much to atone for.

Paul Marx, Towson

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