Just days after Penn announced its decision to sever ties with 1963 College graduate Steve Wynn — removing his name from "Wynn Commons," removing his name from a scholarship, and revoking his honorary degree — history and education professor Jonathan Zimmerman called on the University to more significantly acknowledge its founder's ties to slavery.
Zimmerman published an op-ed in the New York Daily News arguing that while it is commendable that Penn decided to distance itself from Wynn after a string of sexual harassment allegations, the University should now publicly face Benjamin Franklin's ownership of slaves.
"It's so much simpler to scrub away a contemporary sleazebag like Steve Wynn — and then pretend that our hands are clean — than to grapple honestly with our oldest stain," Zimmerman wrote.
This is not Zimmerman's first controversial editorial.
In May 2017, he wrote an op-ed published by the Philadelphia Inquirer calling on the University to stop recognizing fraternities.
The University touts its connection to Franklin and has various landmarks across campus dedicated to its most famous founder.
"Franklin remains the face of Penn, from our web page to the 7-foot sculpture that you encounter when you enter the campus. He's our university's most famous founder, a statesman, a scientist and a humanitarian," Zimmerman wrote. "I'm OK with that, so long as we also acknowledge that Franklin owned human beings."
Zimmerman cited the names of five slaves owned by Franklin throughout his lifetime.
In the past, the University has acknowledged Franklin's ties to slavery, but emphasized his participation in the abolition movement as well.
“It’s well known that our founder, Ben Franklin, early in his life owned slaves, but later became a leading abolitionist, ultimately serving as president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery,” Penn's Director of Media Relations Ron Ozio told the Philadelphia Tribune in 2016.
More recently, the University came under fire after an undergraduate research group connected 20 of Penn's founding trustees to the slave trade.
Zimmerman suggested in his article that Penn could acknowledge Franklin's ties to slavery by including "OWNER OF SLAVES" in the inscription of a Benjamin Franklin Statue located in front of College Hall.
"That wouldn't detract from all of the other magnificent things Franklin did. It would simply acknowledge that he also engaged in human bondage, even as he fought to liberate his young nation from colonial rule," Zimmerman wrote. "It's a lot harder to look backward, into the mirror of history, and to recognize the darkness in its heart."
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