ABC7 Unite: Rutgers adding historical markers to tell stories of benefactors' slaves

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Rutgers University is confronting its ties to slavery by installing four historical markers that will tell the stories of the slaves once owned by the men several campus buildings were named after.

"What we're doing is trying to make African American history and black people come alive," Rutgers University History Professor Deborah Gray White said.

The stories of some of those Black people have been hiding behind the names of benefactors whose names are written on some Rutgers University buildings, from Hardenbergh Hall in New Brunswick to Livingston campus in Piscataway.

"Hardenbergh, Livingston, and Frelinghuysen contributed their time, in terms of their presence and leadership to the campus, but they also contributed their money," Gray White said. "Money made through the slave trade."

Jacob Rusten Hardenbergh was the university's first president.

"It's the Hardenbergh family that owned the parents and owned sojourner truth," Gray White said.

"We are not trying to do this to shame Rutgers. We are simply trying to tell the history," Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway said.

Some of that history was unearthed in the university's 2015 Scarlet and Black Project, a look at the Black and Native American experience at Rutgers. For some students, the markers are not enough.

"We appreciate the university's continued efforts to reckon with our history of racial injustice, but I think that we still need more to be done," student Marc Younker said.

An online petition with more than 4,000 signatures is calling for the buildings to be renamed.

"It is appalling that we're still having these conversations you know in 2021," Rutgers Black Student Union Vice President Ezenezie v. Eze said.

Holloway, Rutgers' first African American president in its 254-year history, says the markers are a way to face the history, rather than erase it.

"I worry about institutions papering over their past," he said.

The markers are expected to go up this June.

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