The Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation (SHMR) Project learns more every day about the lives and experiences of the enslaved adults and children whose unfree labor helped establish and sustain Jesuit missions and schools in places like Missouri, Maryland, Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama.
The institution of slavery left a legacy of obstacles to tracing genealogies in the present. Records about enslaved populations are often incomplete or scarce and where records do exist, they can be inconsistent. Those who engaged in the buying and selling of human beings often changed the names of the enslaved. Families were forcibly separated. After emancipation, some formerly enslaved people chose new names, while others retained the names they had at the time. Although they often experienced family separation and the rupture of familial relationships, enslaved people displayed resilience, going to courageous lengths to keep their families intact and achieve freedom.
Researchers working with the SHMR Project recognize these challenges and they are committed to working together with descendants to uncover the stories of their ancestors. As we continue our research, we seek not only to share with descendants of the enslaved what we know about their families’ histories, but also to listen to and learn from them about their families’ stories, past and present.
We are working to identify living descendants of the people who were held in bondage by Jesuits or Saint Louis University. Connecting with descendants is vitally important, not only because we want to enable them to learn more about their family history, but also because we hope to work with them to find ways to create solidarity and end racism in our communities.
We invite descendants, community members and scholars to join us in addressing the legacy of Jesuit slaveholding and in finding a path toward reconciliation. If you believe you may be a descendant of the enslaved people held in bondage by the Jesuits or Saint Louis University, if you’d like to learn more, or if you want to contribute to this initiative, please contact the SHMR Project at SHMR@jesuits.org or 314.758.7159.