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Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  401 ratings  ·  67 reviews
A 2006 report commissioned by Brown University revealed that institution's complex and contested involvement in slavery-setting off a controversy that leapt from the ivory tower to make headlines across the country. But Brown's troubling past was far from unique. In Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder, a rising star in the profession of history, lays bare uncomfortable trut ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by Bloomsbury Press (first published March 5th 2013)
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3.82  · 
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 ·  401 ratings  ·  67 reviews

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Rachel Wexelbaum
The title of this book grabbed me. I thought it would be about contemporary discourse on race and slavery in the United States, but actually it's about how all the founders of North American universities established in colonial times were all New Englanders who were slave traders and slave owners. Slaves built these early universities, slaves worked there instead of hired administrative assistants, cooks, laborers, and maintenance people...and slaves were abused by the students at these institut ...more
Carolyn Fitzpatrick
Nov 11, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
This is one of the worst written history books I've ever read. I really pushed myself to keep readings since America's history of slavery is a topic I am very interested in. But after 50 pages I had to throw in the towel.

First, the author ranges far from his original topic. I expected the whole of the book to be about American colleges and the direct ways in which those institutions benefited from and contributed to the system of African slavery. The vast majority of the book, however, is not a
Mar 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The basic thesis of the book is simple but has been largely ignored - that American colleges and universities benefited from the slave economy and the conquest of Indian lands. Many northern institutions, especially the "Ivy League" schools not only benefitted from slavery but actively promoted and defended the vile institution. I found quite interesting the section on how once slavery was abolished or no long acceptable to much of the population, focus in the academies shifted to a "scientific" ...more
An important contribution the the historiography of the US and European university, Ebony and Ivy locates higher education institutions as both important spaces of class formation for the settler colonialist and plantocratic aristocracies, and also as themselves agents in and beneficiaries of slavery and genocide. William and Mary was a concentration camp for indigenous people, and the ivies, all of them, fattened their endowments on the labor of enslaved Africans, many of whom toiled on plantat ...more
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Meticulously researched and well documented with 100+ pages of end notes, this book traces the early development of US colleges and universities which was fully underwritten and supported by the founders participation in African and native American slavery. The book closes by describing the later efforts of university leadership to rewrite this history (fake news!), leading to the vast ignorance about these facts that we have to this day. This should be required reading for anyone interested in ...more
Lance Eaton
Wilder takes on the historical and economic connections between slavery and many of the founding higher educational institutes in the United States from the 1600s to the 1800s. Within it, he traces the direct and indirect ways that such institutions participated, promoted, and benefited from slavery. It is a dry read at times, but a very telling one indeed. When we have discussions about race and racism and the long-lasting effects, we often look directly to the African American community, but w ...more
Dec 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
In the decades before the American Revolution...Slaveholders became college presidents. The wealth of traders determined the locations and decided the fates of colonial schools. Profits from the sale and purchase of human beings paid for campuses and swelled college trusts. And the politics of the campus conformed to the presence and demands of slave-holding students as colleges aggressively cultivated a social environment attractive to the sons of wealth families" (p. 77)

Ebony and Ivy tells the
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
"The problem of slavery in the antebellum North, like the problem of slavery at Harvard, could not be solved by rhetoric or emotion. It was located in the entangled economices, histories, institutions, and lineages of the South, the free states, Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa. It was a problem so ugly and so personal that it invited dishonesty" (283)

Ebony and Ivy takes into account how vastly early American colleges and universities profited from the cruel mistreatment of Black slaves during
Kilian Metcalf
Jul 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-nonfiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
The writing of this book was much like many history books and is not my favorite style to read. The book was filled with many details that detracted from my understanding of the points the author was trying make. It felt repetitive and made me often lose interest. I wanted more depth or different consideration in regard to the main thesis. That is, unfortunately, before reading this book, I assumed that the wealthy, white founders and administration of many higher education institutions gained t ...more
Sergio Munoz
Dec 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm reading some of the posts from Anglo critics of this book and I think they may not understand how to read this book. I did a 10 part radio series on this book and I can assure you that it is an important read and also an extremely well written work. I believe that it got deeper and deeper as it went along which is the exact opposite of most academic works which start off strong and then get light. At around the 3rd quarter of Ebony & Ivy, Dr Wilder begins to unravel the historical facts ...more
Aaron Urbanski
Sep 18, 2016 rated it liked it
The intersection of race, slavery, and American universities is filled with traffic. Native Americans, black Africans, and white Europeans - in Britain and especially in its American colonies - play out in a drama that defines the story of higher education in America. Remove efforts to both Christianize and eradicate Native Americans, the wealth of the African slave trade, and the academic arenas in which to debate the arrangement of race, and this drama has a very different script. Craig Wilder ...more
Craig Amason
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This historical study is one of the best documented and well researched books I have ever read. Wilder provides a mountain of evidence to demonstrate the deep connections between the institution of slavery and the development of American society and culture, especially in the area of academia. As we encounter the founding fathers of both the nation and its colleges and universities, we are forced to recognize the overwhelming disconnect between the pursuit of freedom and independence by white pe ...more
Mar 19, 2014 rated it liked it
The pun in the title was too good for the author to pass up, but it's rather misleading. I was expecting a book that traced the culture of slaveholding from the foundation of ivy league institutions in the 1700's through the present day legacy of discrimination, affirmative action, and the aftermath of Brown v. Board. Instead, this book focuses almost exclusively on the 18th century and can be summed up with the sentence, "Early American colleges were founded by wealthy slaveowners, exploited In ...more
Aug 08, 2016 rated it liked it
I want to give this book more stars because I honestly learned so much from it. However, like many other reviewers, I feel like some topics discussed in this book did not necessarily add to the overall thesis. Nevertheless, I think this book should be a required reader more often because the overarching topic is VERY relevant to current discourse surrounding American universities and their ties to slavery.
James Peavler
Sep 24, 2013 added it
Shelves: 2013
I am currently reserving judgement on this book because I have not been able to finish it. As obviously well researched as it is, I am finding it difficult to read because the author's train of thought jumps so quickly from one subject to the next that I find myself rereading passages, thinking that I missed something. I needed a bit of a break and hopefully will be able to revisit it soon.
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the most devastating books I have ever read. As other readers have noted, there should be stars off for the herky-jerky writing style. But the content is so well-presented, and he knows exactly how to drive in the knife, with names and stories beloved among all us academic products.
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
The book was obviously well-researched, but it was a difficult read. The author did a lot of jumping around from topic to topic, and tended to do data dumps without giving context.
Sep 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing

To be found within the pages the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment on the growth and justification of slavery. Not so enlightened after all.
Jamie Allfisher
Some good aha moments sprinkled here and there, but largely this was just one long litany of Harvard and Princeton alums and the years they graduated without any satisfying synthesis.
Apr 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nerding-out
An aptly named book. So many details were shared. Lots to think about.
Tony Lindsay
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Traditionally, institutions of higher learning have been thought of as the locus of enlightened thinking that benefited all mankind. When thinking of the origin of universities, one envisions Plato teaching scribes of justice, equality, and philosophical doctrines that benefit humanity; this is not the history that Craig Steven Wilder offers in his comprehensive history of America’s universities, ‘Ebony & Ivy’ – Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. The instituti ...more
Dec 23, 2017 rated it liked it
The book documents important facts of the complicity of US universities in slavery. Indeed, without slavery and the profits associated with the various institutions of slavery, these universities would not exist. The detail in this book is dense and sometimes covers the core theses, but the histories documented here should be known to every American.
Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities was an excellent and comprehensive read. It gave me the fresh angle of education from which to learn more about the colonial to antebellum American history of slavery, indigenous land theft, and the views of the time on enslaved and free Africans, African Americans, and indigenous peoples.

While I started the book expecting a detailed diagram of sorts linking the ivy's - Harvard, Yale etc - to the apparatus of the i
Kevin Thompson
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was very eye opening. It went through the history of enslaved people and how college benefited from their labor. How slaveowners donated to the schools. Definitely recommend it
Feb 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
You can read the Goodreads blurb to find out what this book's about. The one thing the blurb doesn't mention that I find interesting is that, in the early 1800s when the morality of slavery came into question, all the hallowed institutions built by slavery began rewriting their history, making slaveholders out to be the guardians of the helpless who welcomed the indentured into their homes as family. Maybe so. Maybe not.

Information in this book is all new to me. I grew up being taught that slave
Sep 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is another important book insofar as the information it contains about the history of racism in developing America. Wilder ties the slave trade to the founding universities, Yale, Harvard, Brown, U o Penn, Rutgers, William and Mary, etc., etc., etc. - all the first halls of learning - but it goes much further in illustrating just how prevalent slavery was in Colonial America - apparently everyone had slaves, unlike our common perception that slaves were only held in the southern plantations ...more
Nov 22, 2014 marked it as to-read
AAUW Adelante Book Recommendation by Rebecca Horahan, AAUW McLean Area (VA) Branch: A 2006 report commissioned by Brown University revealed that institution’s complex and contested involvement in slavery, setting off a controversy that leapt from the ivory tower to make headlines across the country. But Brown’s troubling past was far from unique. In Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder, a rising star in the profession of history, lays bare uncomfortable truths about race, slavery, and the American ...more
Jul 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Ebony and Ivy has a great title, well-written, well sourced, and some interesting material but there's just something off about it to me. The author's conclusions are well founded and clearly Mr. Wilder put a lot of work into it. The amount of notes used for the book (134 pages with 288 pages of text) is worth noting. However, I felt like the title of the book and description of it versus what the book actually covered are two different things. So perhaps I am wrong on this one, and either way I ...more
Marcus Nelson
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
"We're institutions that are founded to produce knowledge and pursue truth and we can't be cowardly when those truths are uncomfortable for us."  - Craig Steven Wilder, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology history professor specializing in American institutions speaking about the admissions, recently, of Ivy League schools addressing their involvement in slavery.

I give these schools credit for visiting a time of their history they've ignored for the past few hundreds of years.  A history that
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Craig Steven Wilder is a professor of American history at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University focusing on urban history, under the tutelage of Kenneth T. Jackson, as well as Barbara J. Fields, and Eric Foner. His doctoral disseration was titled Race and the History of Brooklyn, New York which f