IBERVILLE PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Georgetown University in Washington D.C. is in the midst of a genealogy investigation. Students have demanded the university take action, and the Georgetown slave trail leads to Louisiana.
Maxine Crump left her business Success Communication, LLC to drive to Maringouin with 9News. She talked about how business has been since her story was the lead in a Sunday New York Times. Crump is related to a slave who was among 272 who were sold by Jesuit priests at Georgetown University to bail the school out of debt.
Crump said her Facebook page has been "blowing up." When she posted about the report, "I've never see that many posts on my Facebook page. It was amazing!" she marveled.
You could see with a look out her car window that we were not in the city anymore. There were verdant fields of sugar cane and simply wooded areas bursting with green after recent rains. We were riding down Rosedale Road in Iberville Parish.
Maxine remembered when she first received that cell phone call about her ancestor.
"It was hard to believe that I was really getting a call with this information," Maxine said. "But when he told me that the records were at Georgetown, it just filled in the question I always had which was 'How did my side of the family, my dad's side of the family become Catholic?"
Georgetown University back in the 1800s had slaves. Several other universities did. But recently it had come to light at Georgetown that in 1838, university president Father Thomas Mulledy had sold 272 slaves who had worked Georgetown's fields in Baltimore to three South Louisiana plantations.
Journals from Jesuits who stood on the pier as the ship left noticed families being separated and great anguish. The entire shipment, the largest number of slaves in one sale, stood out among America's universities, and Georgetown students were up in arms. Almost immediately they demanded that both the names of Mulledy and one other official involved be removed from buildings on campus.
Now students wanted the university to pay some reparation to the lives they had affected in that mass sale of humans. The records showed that at the West Oak Plantation in Maringouin, a family named Barrow received the Georgetown slaves.
Georgetown alum Richard Cellini decided to accelerate the search for descendants of the slaves by hiring a half-dozen genealogists to really get the ball rolling.
It was Cellini who was on the phone with Crump that day. Crump's great, great grandfather, Cornelius Hawkins was sold as part of the Jesuit sale at age 13. Because the Jesuits had insisted that their slaves attend church, Cornelius sought a Catholic church on arrival but found none. His name was later added to church rosters when the Vatican ordered a church built nearby for the entire community, but also for the isolated Georgetown slaves.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Parish, as it later was named, has a historic cemetery that Maxine has visited often, but she never knew that Cornelius Hawkins was buried there.
Crump brought 9News to the graveyard and reached into her car to grab a pot of pure white blossoms. They would continue to grow. They were not cut.
She and I head to the place where this deluge of information revealed Cornelius Hawkins was buried. A genealogist was making it possible to find that grave in plain sight.
"You'll see where the headstone is? It took a genealogist to find it, there's no way we would have ever in my lifetime found this! You'll see!" Crump said.
We moved to a little clearing of green grass among the graves and there was a cement rectangle flat on the ground with the strip of stone that looks broken off at ground level. Crump knelt to place the flowers on the grave and fought back unexpected tears.
"Putting these flowers here just did something," Maxine said. "You know, I didn't feel then what I do now, leaving these flowers. I did not have this reaction when I first saw it, but then those flowers there just... It was very emotional for me."
We moved to the headstone which was severed from its base. It was leaning against a stone cross headstone face down. The words were obscured unless you squat down beside it.
"The genealogist found it. Oh it's definitely so heavy you can't pull it back. But you can see his name's on there," Maxine said.
I gently asked if I can try to lift it. "Can I try, Max?" Maxine answered, "You can try."
To me the headstone was not heavy, but I slid it from behind the stone cross and started dusting the dirt away from its face. There was his nickname, Neely Hawkins. He died at age 70 in 1902.
"I was sad to know to have a personal connection to the pain of slavery that you always hear about," Crump said. "But then now you really know based on how they describe what happened to them and that the Church was in it, then I had outrage that the Church was complicit and supporter, a full participant and a protector of slavery."
We spent a while longer just searching for all the Cornelius' in her family. Crump said there is at least one in every generation. Now to have all the questions answered about how he ended up in Louisiana, his circumstances. It's as if a large window has been opened.
A well-dressed woman, who is the church's parish secretary and bookkeeper, met us at the cemetery with a sheaf of documents. Akeisha Williams pulled out a few pages of photographs.
"That's when it was St. Mary's Chapel in 1893," Williams said, motioning at the pictures. "That's when it was constructed and this church is actually the same."
"Right. They bricked the front of it. I remember that," Maxine agreed.
Williams has a cemetery roster as recent as 1980 that showed Neely Hawkins' grave. She showed Crump where his plot was registered.
We rounded up our trip on West Oak Road on the actual site of West Oak Plantation. The field now ripples with breeze in the young sugar cane.
"In addition to reparation from Georgetown, do you want something from the church?" I asked.
Crump had told me earlier that the Vatican had not approved the slave sale, and she was thinking of her local church.
"The ministers here now? What they will say about it? It's up to them, but I'm not asking reparations from this local church," Maxine said. "But yes, I think you're right. I think it was very much a part of the times. It makes me wonder, what are we doing now that's part of our times that we're gonna look back and say hmmm, that was part of the times, but it was harmful, that's where it leads me."
Maxine Crump is executive director of a non-profit Dialogue on Race Louisiana. She works tirelessly to defeat racism.
Will other families soon hear that they too descended from those almost 300 Georgetown slaves? The slavery path led to Maxine Crump quickly because her ancestor sought to preserve his Catholic faith. He was there in their records. Catholic Church records are famous for their accuracy and thoroughness.
See the documents that list Cornelius in them by clicking the following links:
More information can be found on the Georgetown Slavery Archive.
Also watch the video below of a TED talk Crump gave at TEDxLSU.