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The 272 Reading Guide

by Jacob Smit on 2024-02-28T13:36:00-08:00 in African and African American Studies, Catholic Studies, History | 0 Comments

“The 272” Reading Guide 

THE 272: THE FAMILIES WHO WERE ENSLAVED AND SOLD TO BUILD THE AMERICAN CATHOLIC CHURCH 

BY RACHEL L. SWARNS 

 

Introduction  

In 1838 a group of America’s most prominent Catholic priests sold 272 enslaved people to save their largest mission project, what is now Georgetown University. This groundbreaking story follows one family through nearly two centuries of indentured servitude and enslavement to uncover the harrowing origin story of the Catholic Church in the United States. 

The two stories told in “The 272” weave together the life of an indentured black woman on a Maryland plantation (1767) and the stories of her descendants who are all part of the same family that was bought and sold, twisted and torn to establish Catholic education in the United States. In this disturbing chapter in American history, the Catholic Church thrived by selling crops and goods produced by the slaves and by selling the slaves themselves for profit. It was a massive slave sale that was hidden in plain sight in Georgetown University’s records. The story provides information and answers, but also raises many questions left for the reader to unpack, please join us in continuing the discussion of “The 272”.  

We look forward to your contributions and thank you for reading!

 

The 272 Questions & Discussion 

“The past is never dead. It’s never even past.” - William Faulkner 

  • Where do you see these past events playing out in today’s society?  

  • Can we personally reconcile with these slave stories and tragic historic events when we did not participate in them?  As students in a Catholic university how have we, or not, benefited from the institutional system that was responsible?   

 

This book deals with history, money, politics, racism, and religion. That is a lot of topics for one mind-altering book.   

  • What is the role of each topic as a contributor to the institution of slavery? 

 

This book challenges stories that question “accepted narrative and history”. There are ongoing attempts in the United States to rewrite the history of slavery (banned books like the 1619 Project) and reframe slavery to seem less horrific and at times even benevolent; for example, slaves did back breaking labor in the fields but were shown singing and dancing in their slave quarters.  

  • Do you recognize modern-day wrongdoings that will lead to the detriment of generations to come?  

 

The Catholic Church is front and center in the decision-making of this historical account.  

  • How has the Catholic Church moved toward restorative justice in addressing their part in slavery? Is it enough?  

For further context on the Catholic response visit: 

  

“The 272” reveals the words and thoughts of the Jesuit priests including their own racism, hypocrisy, and perpetuation of slavery in America.  

  • Is their response to the Mahoney family and reconciliation plan enough?  

  • What does that repayment look like to you?  

 

Discover more titles in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion 2023 Reading List, linked via image below.

 

ODI Reading List Link

Search the Library Catalog for “The 272” for both physical and audio versions of this title.


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