The economy of colonial Rhode Island depended on the provisioning trade with the plantation colonies of the Caribbean.
In 2003, Brown University President Ruth Simmons appointed a Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. The committee, which included faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and administrators, was charged to investigate and to prepare a report about the University’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. It was also asked to organize public programs that might help the campus and the nation reflect on the meaning of this history in the present, on the complex historical, political, legal, and moral questions posed by any present-day confrontation with past injustice.
The Committee presented its final report to President Simmons in October 2006. On February 24, 2007, the Brown Corporation endorsed a set of initiatives in response to the Committee’s report.
From the report:
Americans in the nineteenth century referred to slavery as “the peculiar institution,” but historically it is not peculiar at all. On the contrary, it is a virtually universal feature of human history.
The oldest surviving system of written laws, the Code of Hammurabi, includes regulations about slavery, as does the Old Testament. Slavery was ubiquitous in the classical world; about a third of the inhabitants of ancient Athens were slaves, roughly the same proportion as in the antebellum American South. Slavery existed in the Muslim world (usually as a status reserved for non-Muslims) and in Meso-America, in Africa and Asia, and in western and eastern Europe. (The English word “slave” derives from “Slav.”) Nor is slavery simply a matter of the past. Though slavery and slave trading are universally prohibited in national and international law, they remain endemic in the world today. While estimates vary, at least eight hundred thousand and perhaps as many as three million people are trafficked annually, most of them women and children.