Dickinson College adds new markers to highlight slavery in its past

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CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) — There are new historical markers on the Carlisle campus of Dickinson College.

“It’s called the Dickinson Slavery initiative,” says Matthew Pinsker, who runs Dickinson’s House Divided Project. “We’ve uncovered an awful lot of new material about our college’s history, and now we’ve installed wayside markers around campus and we’ve created a walking tour.”

Following a brief ceremony, officials, students, and visitors stepped off on a walk into history.

“This history is so important to us, and not just the college, but in the community,” says Margee Ensign, Dickinson College President. “And we see the country, finally, all of us, facing up to our important history, and acknowledging a troubled past.”

Normally the walking tour will be self-guided. (Brochures are available at the college.) Today, though, attendees were guided by students who worked on the project. Amanda Sowah was one of them; she says it involved a great deal of effort.

“A lot of work,” she said. “And a lot of hours put into it to see that we got all the information right. And I’m just really glad to be a part of it, to bring them home.”

As Matthew Pinsker explains, “the first markers show how Dickinson and the peculiar institution, as slavery was known, intertwined in peculiar ways.”

“Some of the people who founded this college, like Benjamin Rush and John Dickinson, the namesake, they said they were opposed to slavery, but they also owned slaves. They freed their slaves voluntarily, but they did it slowly,” Pinsker said. “We have a marker about the Dred Scott case. And the decisions involved Dickinsonians. The Chief Justice was a graduate of the college. But one of the dissenting judges was also a trustee of the college.”

Other stops on the tour include the House Divided Studio, which highlights Dickinson College immediately before, during and after the Civil War, and wayside markers about Black workers on and around campus after the war.

“Robert Young was a janitor, he wanted his son to go to Dickinson,” Pinsker said. “At first the school officials resisted, but he went to the newspapers, he went to the press. And it got national attention, and they eventually relented.”

Yvette Kinsale and her daughter Thinee, from Newark, Delaware, were checking out Dickinson as a possible college. Both were pleased to find an institution willing to take a hard look at its past.

“I think it’s really cool because I didn’t know about all these things on Dickinson’s campus and it was really nice to learn about it,” Thinee said.

Yvette Kinsale expressed her gratitude to college officials. “We did read about it so we’re quite familiar with the Dred Scott case,” she said, “but I do think this is important because she shouldn’t make a decision not to here because of that history, but I appreciate that because it’s a beautiful school, and it’s pretty high on our list.”

The sixth and last stop on the tour looks at the past, and to the future.

“We have a new naming for a residential hall,” Pinsker said. “We’re now calling it the Spradley-Young Hall, honoring Henry Spradley and Robert Young. We’ve delayed official renaming ceremonies so we can bring back some of the descendants of those figures, and we plan on having on doing that in November of 2021.”

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