PRINCETON — Students at Princeton Theological Seminary have gotten more than 400 signatures on a petition calling on their school to make amends for its historical ties to slavery.

While the school, founded in 1812 with ties to the Presbyterian Church, never used slave labor, many of its founders did in their personal lives, according to a report published last year by the institution.

The 115-page report notes that 15 percent of the seminary's income before the Civil War came from slave holders. As much as 40 percent of the seminary's revenues could have come from slavery "if one considers donors who remotely profited from slavery and thus whose wealth was in some measure derived from the slave trade," the report says

The report also notes that some faculty and students also were involved in the colonization movement, which advocated sending freed slaves back to Africa because whites did not believe they could co-exist. The West African nation of Liberia was founded as a result of this movement.

The committee behind the report was empaneled in 2016, about the time that institutions of higher education as well as communities around the country began to think about the public monuments and buildings that honored historical figures with racist legacies.

Rutgers University in 2016 published a book exploring the school's early ties to slavery and developed recommendations to honor the past and move forward.

Another New Jersey school, Stockton University, named after Richard Stockton, a colonial representative who signed the Declaration of Independence, wrestled with what to do with a bust of its namesake, who was a slaveholder.

The idea of reparations for slavery has long existed outside mainstream political thought but this year several Democratic presidential candidates have addressed questions about it.

But while the Princeton report highlights the school's history of "sin," it also pays tribute to the virtue of faculty and students who fought slavery. The school's first black graduate in 1828, Theodore Sedgwick Wright, founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist newspaper editor, was killed by a mob three years after he graduated in 1834.

The Association of Black Seminarians, which launched the petition, said the school should set aside at least 15 percent of its $986 million endowment (the third largest in the state) "to be allocated for redressing this historical injustice by January 1, 2020."

The petition says the money should be used to give a free ride to black students and to set aside 10 spaces for students from Libera and another 10 spots for students from other West African nations.

"The ABS welcomes the repentance declared, not just of slavery, but of Whiteness (white supremacy, white superiority, and white normativity)," the petition says.

"In the spirit of MOVING FORWARD ... the ABS encourages the Board of Trustees and the Administration to follow the instructions of Leviticus 26:41 fully, in which the covenant people of God are called to make amends for the iniquity of their ancestors."

About 15 percent of the seminary's 500 students are black.

Among the recommendations in the petition is to "address the mixed legacy of those for whom major buildings are named by hyphenating those structure names with distinguished African American or pro-equality alumni (Theodore Sedgwick Wright, Francis Grimke, Elijah Lovejoy, Prathia Hall, Betsey Stockton, Renita Weems, and others)."

More From WPG Talk Radio 95.5 FM