Columbia University will install historical markers in four campus residential halls acknowledging institutional ties to slavery and racism and commemorating African American students. Reuters reported that the markers will be installed in the fall as digital monitors. Permanent plaques may be installed later, according to Thai Jones, a lecturer in Columbia’s history department and the curator of the university’s Center for American History. Jones, who taught a course called Columbia & Slavery, has led the effort to install the markers on campus.
Two of the markers, to be installed in John Jay Hall and 50 Haven Avenue—formerly known as Bard Hall—will highlight the ties of slave owners John Jay and Samuel Bard to Columbia.
A third marker at Furnald Hall will detail a 1924 incident in which men in Ku Klux Klan robes burned a cross, targeting Frederick W. Wells, the first Black student to live on campus during the school year. The fourth marker will be at Hartley Hall, where a high percentage of students of color lived.
According to a Columbia spokesperson, the effort emerged in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, when President Lee C. Bollinger called on individuals and colleges to “seize the moment to embark on an honest and open self-evaluation to ensure that our values and actions are aligned with the realities and magnitude of the crisis.” At Columbia, those efforts include a review of “inclusive public safety; addressing the impact of racism in our surrounding communities; symbols and representations on campus; student inclusion and belonging; faculty diversity; the staff experience; initiatives at our schools and institutes; and antiracism in health care at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.”