The University of Chicago will remove a plaque of Stephen A. Douglas from campus, President Robert J. Zimmer announced in an email on Tuesday.
The school also will remove a stone from the “Old University of Chicago,” a predecessor to the current U. of C. that was built on land in Bronzeville donated by Douglas, who served as first president of the school’s board of trustees. Both the plaque and the stone will be moved to the Special Collections Research Center in the Regenstein Library.
“Douglas profited from his wife’s ownership of a Mississippi plantation where Black people were enslaved,” wrote Zimmer in the email. “While it is critical to understand and address the ongoing legacy of slavery and oppression in this country, Douglas does not deserve to be honored on our campus.”
The U. of C.’s ties to Douglas have been a central part of the argument for reparations put forward by campus activists over the past few years. A 2017 paper, written by three doctoral students at the school, argues that the reconstituted University of Chicago founded in 1890 was essentially an attempt by the trustees of the old school to evade its creditors, and that there is therefore a direct connection between the two institutions.
Since Douglas used the profit from his wife’s plantation in Mississippi to buy the land that would become the old U. of C., the authors argue, “the University of Chicago would simply be a historical nonentity without slavery.” (For his part, Zimmer wrote in his email that Douglas “had no connection to the University of Chicago that was founded in 1890 as a new institution with a distinct mission.”)
The Reparations at UChicago Working Group, which advocates for reparations from the university, did not respond to a request for comment.