The Johns Hopkins House, Inc., a nonprofit organization devoted to restoring Whites Hall, the birthplace and childhood home of Johns Hopkins, recently announced plans for a scholarship program alongside its restoration project. The organization aims to honor the enslaved men and women who worked the former tobacco plantation by naming college and vocational education scholarships after them.
Reports emerged in December 2020 that Hopkins was an enslaver despite being depicted as a lifelong abolitionist, though subsequent research has cast doubt on these claims. While there is inconclusive evidence of Hopkins’ relationship to slavery, the Johns Hopkins House notes that the Hopkins family property used the labor of enslaved people.
Robert Brown, executive director of the Johns Hopkins House, explained in an interview with The News-Letter that the organization plans hopes to offer around 40 scholarships each year, with $25,000 to $35,000 per scholarship.
“[The purpose is] to give the opportunity to go not only to college, but also vocational programs, to students and specifically African American students who might not otherwise have the ability to go,” he said. “And honoring the enslaved people that were on that property.”
Brown continued to explain that the scholarship will be funded in two ways.
“Primarily, our thought was to fund them through the operations at Whites Hall,” Brown said. “Everything would be a nonprofit undertaking. Our excess revenues we think every year would be in the neighborhood of $800,000 to $1 million, and our plan is to take that money and put it towards these scholarships. Any excess revenue from our weddings, events, restaurant, overnight stays would all go towards funding the scholarships.”
The Johns Hopkins House plans to renovate the 14-acre property and make it open to the public. Brown said that organization hopes the space can become one that provides comfort. Projects include turning an 18th-century barn to house a cafe and bakery, creating museums and an arboretum in the front, as well as approximately a dozen colonial cottages for overnight stay.
Additionally, the organization has been running beer gardens with live music for a couple of months in the past years. Next year, they will run from the beginning of May until the end of October every Friday and Saturday night.
Brown hopes that fundraising will only be required to kickstart the scholarships and that eventually, the attractions at Whites Hall will sustain the scholarships.
“We’re looking for a total of $8 to $10 million to do everything I’ve described, and that funding will then forever fund these scholarships,” Brown said. “We won’t continually need to be fundraising to support the scholarships; that’s what’s exciting to me about it.”
In an email to The News-Letter, Sydney Van Morgan, director of the University’s Program in International Studies, commented on the importance of preserving Whites Hall while recognizing the role it played in 18th-century slavery.
“It is exciting to imagine — more than 225 years after Johns Hopkins’ birth — the house and property being transformed into a site of fellowship, reflection and education about the special role played by the Quakers in Maryland history and about the lived experiences of the enslaved people who labored on these lands,” Morgan wrote. “Whites Hall provides a unique window into rural Maryland life and institution of slavery in the state from the 17th to the 19th century.”
Brown also explained the motivation behind the restoration of Whites Hall and the scholarships.
“There were these anonymous people that lived their lives there, and we all talk about Johns Hopkins and his family, but there were these other people, more of them than probably the Hopkins family, who lived their lives there and toiled away without any recognition and were sort of lost to history,” he said. “We think... this is the first former plantation in the country where all of the enslaved will be honored in this way.”
Although the University sent its encouragement, it has not provided direct or indirect assistance with the scholarship program.
Brown expressed his disappointment about the University’s lack of support.
“I know they have lots of priorities; I don’t expect them to look at our little project and think it’s some major priority, but it should be somewhere on the list, and it’s not,” Brown said. “The alumni I’ve talked to have been upset that they’re not being informed of this. It’s hard for us to reach out to the hundreds of thousands of Hopkins alumni and let them know about our project. I would think the students would want to know, especially about this scholarship program.”
Sophomore Paris Bryant, a Black student at Hopkins, expressed a similar confusion to Brown regarding the University’s lack of interest in endorsing or advertising the scholarship program.
“I’ve never heard of this so I would appreciate some transparency,” she said. “I don’t know why [the University] wouldn’t say something about [the Johns Hopkins House] needing donations.”
Bryant felt that the scholarship program would be a good way for properties with histories of slave ownership to pay their reparations, though she did express some concerns about involving the formerly enslaved in the program without contacting their descendants.
“It’s honestly a good way to pay back reparations, but it’s iffy because did they contact their descendants about it?” she said. “I understand the good that it could do. It feels weird because you’re doing something on the behalf of people and you don’t know what they want.”
According to Brown, the descendants of the formerly enslaved have not yet been contacted.
Brown himself hopes that the program will target institutionalized racism and believes that naming the scholarships after the enslaved will bring honor to them as individuals.
“I think there’s institutional racism in the United States that has its founding with slavery, and if that’s the case I think that emboldens what we’re trying to do,” Brown said. “We’re not trying to make anyone uncomfortable; we’re just trying to honor a group of people that tend to be lost in history, not as a group, but as individuals — and we know these people’s names and when they were born and when they were emancipated, so we just think it’s appropriate to honor them by name.”