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Hard Histories: A Conversation with Martha S. Jones

March 18, 2021


  • Martha S. Jones, Professor at the SNF Agora Institute, The Johns Hopkins University
  • Eliot Cohen, Dean, Johns Hopkins SAIS

The school hosted a discussion on African-American slave history, as part of its Dean’s Lecture Series.

During the discussion, Jones’ reflected on her research on the census archives at Johns Hopkins University, where she came across a slave schedule bearing the name of the school’s founder Johns Hopkins. There it was learned that Mr. Hopkins had a difficult history that was unknown until now.

Johns Hopkins had been noted to owning slaves in both the 1840 and 1850 censuses, but not in 1860 where only free blacks were recorded to be working for him. This was a radical departure from the abolitionist position that his niece had ascribed him in his biography. Jones then began to delve into this “hard history” finding not only Hopkins’ troubled relationship to slavery, but also to his Quaker faith, which he often times lived inconsistently with.

Jones went on to explain the research of the time itself, noting that Baltimore had the largest amount of free blacks, but often Maryland was even more segregated than Louisiana. Furthermore, Jones noted how anti-slavery feelings at the time were tied up with the colonists, including US President Abraham Lincoln until almost the end of his life, who wished to free and then send the black population back to Africa. She also noted how the 3/5’s Compromise was a Northern demand not Southern, who didn’t want a domination of legislature by the South. Finally, on a personal note she stated that the unnamed slaves moved and motivated her, to deal with the hard and difficult history of her employer.