President Minnis' Statement on Student's Historically Inaccurate and Offensive Post

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Stephen D. Minnis, President of Benedictine College, issued the following statement on Wednesday, June 17, 2020.

Benedictine College was deeply disturbed to see that a member of the student Chapter of TPUSA posted an historically inaccurate and offensive graphic on their Instagram account.

This meme asserted that the first slave-owner in America was black. That is factually wrong. But more perniciously, it seems to imply that enslavement was not an institution imposed on black people by white people. This is wrong in every sense of the word.

Very occasionally you find references to a black person owning slaves. This doesn’t mean that slavery was not a race-based system imposed on black people by white people. To deny it seems like an attempt to deny the historical reality that racism has caused suffering that continues to this very day.

Even if this was not the intent of the student who posted this meme, it was nevertheless an act that could only cause needless pain, especially to our black Raven family members. The Dean of Students is currently evaluating the appropriate response to this club in light of the rules governing student organizations, and is working with our GA for Diversity Initiatives to develop programs for the fall that will emphasize how we can better address the sad legacy of slavery and racism in today’s society (and on campus). However, the real response to this is not about rights and programs. The real response is based in our principles and values, and our call to each, individually, commit ourselves to embracing them and living them out.

The great promise of America—a promise obscured, but not obliterated, by the terrible stain of slavery—is contained in the words of the Declaration of Independence—that we are all equal, each of us, of every race and circumstance, equally created in the image and likeness of God. It is to achieve that promise that we must keep striving, not to divide by race but to embrace this great challenge—to lift the burdens from all our neighbors and fellow citizens, to aim toward healing and peace rather than provocation and aggravation. 

St. Benedict reminds us that we should treat everyone we encounter as if they were Jesus Christ himself. Posting images or messages that are hurtful to our fellow students and fellow citizens is antithetical to our community. Now is a particularly sensitive time in our nation’s history, and words and images that carry unsettling implications are even more hurtful than usual. Let us not cause needless pain with careless remarks or social media posts. Our only hope for healing and progress is love—love for those God has put in our path, by making them fellow Ravens. Abraham Lincoln shows us the way: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds…”


It is a sad fact that slavery existed on the North American continent long before the foundation of the United States, and before the court case that was referred to in the article in question. Here are some facts that are not in dispute:

  • there were slaves in Florida as early as the 1520s; Spanish law, which operated in Florida at the time, enforced slavery
  • there were slaves in Virginia dating from 1619 —although without a legal ruling about their status, but they were bought and sold and punished for trying to run away
  • there were slaves in Massachusetts from the 1630s
  • Massachusetts officially recognized slavery as legal in 1641
  • Anthony Johnson, whose case was heard in 1654, was definitely NOT the first slaveowner in America, however, he could more accurately be described as the first person whose status as a slaveowner was specifically recognized in a court decision in Virginia.