We spoke to a descendant of a Georgetown University slave

‘I have asked that they grant the slaves who died shackled to slavery their freedom even though they are deceased’

How do you atone for the atrocity that is slavery? How can one come to terms with such an unfortunate historical legacy? We spoke to a descendant of one of the 272 Georgetown University slaves sold to support Georgetown University.

Jessica Tilson is a 34-year-old student at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana studying Microbiology. She has two daughters, Jessica Tilson, Jr and younger daughter Jessalynn Tilson.

Do you know anyone eligible for the new Georgetown admissions policy?

While I may not know anyone personally, I am sure there are quite a few of the descendants that are more than qualified to get into Georgetown, even without the use of the new admission policy. The descendants of the 272+ slaves were a group of tenacious individuals who raised each generation to strive to be better than their generation.

Because prior to knowing about the history surrounding my ancestors and Georgetown, I was taught that being black/African-American you will always have to prove yourself and hard work will lend itself to a good education. Whether it is a formal education or just learning how to teach yourself how to survive.

Is Georgetown University doing enough? What do you think needs to be done?

It is a start but, what is enough? Because at least they are trying to do something and have pledge to continue trying to rectify the evil and wrong that was done so many centuries ago. I have asked that they grant the slaves who died shackled to slavery their freedom even though they are deceased.

I also asked that the families that were separated be united even in death. I gave the President of Georgetown and his Chief of Staff four jars of soil, which from the land my ancestors were enslaved on to be distributed as follows: One for Professor Adam Rothman, one for Attorney Richard Cellini (founder of the Georgetown Memory Project), one to be spread around Georgetown, and a special jar for the grave of Nace Butler, who was separated from his family because he escaped. I also requested a jar of soil from Georgetown be returned to me in order that he is reunited with his family on the West Oak Plantation, because to me the reuniting of our family, living and deceased, is very important.

Granting the descendants the opportunity to attend whatever institution of learning they choose would be nice. Also, an enhancement in the education of descendants to increase the number of descendants able to attend Georgetown.

A memorial with the names of the 272 should be displayed in Ascension, Maringouin, and Terrebonne, where the slaves were sold to. Honorary posthumous degrees for all 272, because they were denied an opportunity to receive a degree.

I could go on and on, this is why I asked what is enough? Because of the evil and wrong that was done, the list of things that would be needed or could be done to rectify this would be endless. Everyone has a different perceptive as to what can be done.

Would you send your child to Georgetown University?

Sure. If my children wanted to attend Georgetown and was able to meet the criteria for admission, I would have no problem with that, but the choice would have to be theirs. I do have a daughter who is a Level 10 gymnast and has stated unless they have a gymnastics team, Georgetown is not on her list of colleges to attend.

Were you angry before Georgetown recognized the descendants?

No, why should I have been? I always knew I was a descendant of slaves and slaves had a hand in building this nation, because in my family there were stories passed down about slavery. The problem was the names became lost or forgotten, but I was told that at least one of my ancestors, if not more, was a slave. There are still colleges that have not stepped forward and at the very least recognized the contributions made by the slaves that built their structures for higher education purposes.

If you were a student at Georgetown what would you campaign for?

If I was a student at Georgetown right now and especially knowing what I know now, I would be so busy trying to make my ancestors hard work, pain, and suffering not be in vain. Meaning, I would be so focused on getting an education and continue what my ancestors started –  making a legacy that will live on for my descendants and others like me for all prosperity.

Have you met other descendants of the slaves that were sold? If so, what was it like?

Yes. It was exhilarating, exciting, to be perfectly honest, there are not enough adjectives or adverbs in the world to explain the feeling. They were very welcoming, friendly, angry, sad, and more. When we met there was an instant connection. It was very easy to embrace the newly found family members, because our families told us about our history as it related to slavery.

Everyone is taught at home and in school that families were separated due to being sold or ran away to be free. That was the reason for family reunions, this was a way to connect with family members we didn’t know existed or had not seen for a long time.

So when we were told that we had family that we had a connection with because of the selling of the GU272, it was like a good old fashion family reunion one that is never ending, because everyday we are finding new family members.

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