Hartley Hall Video Transcript

Columbia University and Slavery


[Description: video begins by panning over a drawing of King’s College, which later became Columbia University. There is no audio, only text]

Columbia Enslavers 1740-1820

According to census records, Columbia administrators, trustees, and professors enslaved at least 227 people in 1790, 148 in 1800, 70 in 1810, and 9 in 1820.

Researchers, including undergraduate members of the Columbia University and Slavery seminar, have identified over 150 individuals enslaved by King’s College and Columbia affiliates. 

The true number of men, women, and children held in bondage between 1741 and 1827 was undoubtedly much higher.


[Description: video transitions to a picture of the 2019 Columbia University & Slavery seminar meeting with President Lee Bollinger]

The Columbia University & Slavery Seminar

First offered by the History Department in 2015, the Columbia University & Slavery seminar is an undergraduate research course that runs during the fall semester. 

Student researchers in the seminar have led the way in discovering and examining Columbia’s connections to the history and legacies of enslavement.


[Description: background changes to a picture of members of the 2020 Columbia University & Slavery seminar viewing archival documents in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library]

Student researchers

Students in the Columbia University and Slavery Project seminars have spent years examining archival documents and other historical sources to discover these hidden and forgotten stories.


[Description: background changes to a picture of students in 2017 in the Columbia 1968 seminar posing while taking a walking tour of campus]


[Description: video of student on zoom talking, no audio]

Olganydia Plata Aguilera 
Columbia College '23

"Whenever I just walk around campus, I'm just kind of reminded of this research, and this history, and this knowledge…

What I would like to see on campus is more spaces where we can acknowledge that history but also make a space where we can also celebrate joy."


Hartley Hall


[Description: Photograph of Langston Hughes dated July 7, 1930, from the Alexander Gumby papers, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University] 

Langston Hughes Arrives at Hartley Hall

White University employees were shocked when Langston Hughes walked into Hartley Hall in 1921 to claim his room. Staff doubted his reservation, and his documents. They questioned his identity, asking him if he were at the right place.

Eventually, they realized Hughes was, in fact, a registered student–a Black student–and that he had indeed made a reservation for a room.

Hughes was likely one of the first Black students to live in a Columbia University residence hall.


[Description: video pans over Columbia Spectator article from April 15, 1908, describing activities of the Southern Club]

Racism on Campus

Racism permeated campus life in the early 20th century. Southern clubs, blackface humor, and minstrelsy were part of Columbia's culture.

There were rumors that a student branch of the Ku Klux Klan met secretly in Hartley Hall, and at the 1923 Commencement exercises, such reports appeared to be confirmed, when uniformed members of the KKK paraded, "in broad daylight, with the blistering sun overhead and no attempt at secrecy."


[Description: video zooms in on and highlights title of article in the issue of the Columbia Spectator newspaper in the background. Title reads: “Southern Club Holds Social Meeting.”]


[Description: video of student speaking on zoom, no audio]

Tommy Song
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism '22

"I hope these histories may inspire all of us to be vigilant about how our actions and behaviors are influencing others, because I think any systemic change starts with the personal and the interpersonal, and–eventually–the political."


[Description: annotated map of Harlem titled “Distribution of Negro Growth in Harlem 1913, 1920, 1926” from Central Files, Columbia University Archives]

Alarm at Harlem's Growth

By the mid-1920s, while the Great Migration was still in its early stages, Columbia administrators began watching the growth of Harlem's Black community with increasing concern.


University staff and faculty mapped and charted the rising Black presence in the area. In 1926, one dean wrote to President Nicholas Murray Butler:

"It may be worth our while to consider whether the possibility of still further spread is an increasing reason why we should control all the property opposite the University holdings on 116th Street and on Amsterdam Avenue.”


[Description: Excerpt from April 4, 1922 issue of the Columbia Spectator containing the poem “Passionate Love,” written by Langston Hughes under the pen name Lang-Hu.] 

Langston Hughes at Columbia

Hughes found his time at Columbia University to be "miserable." Pressured by his father to pursue a degree in the School of Mines, he was unable to follow his love of writing and literature.

When he applied to work for the Columbia Spectator, the editors offered him the task of covering fraternity events and society news. This was an assignment, Hughes noted, that would be "impossible for a colored boy to fill, as they knew."

Unable to submit work under his own name, Langston Hughes published several poems in the Spectator under the pen-name Lang-Hu:


Passionate Love

The sun once loved a certain flower

So much that it burned it up.

Raoul, the gypsy, loved his bride

So greatly that he killed her.

Somehow, like that I love my history prof!



From the Columbia Spectator, April 4, 1922


[Description: video of student on zoom talking, no audio]

Stella Kazibwe
Columbia College '22

"Yes, we're talking about history. But, at the same time, a lot of this is still happening, and it's very current."


[Description: video proceeds to closing words against picture of Columbia University in the background]

Next Steps

Learn More at the Columbia University & Slavery website.


Take the Seminars and research Columbia University's historical connections to enslavement and its legacies.




Information in this presentation was researched by the following individuals:

Charlette Caldwell

Thomas Germain

Trey Greenough

Thai Jones

Stella Kazibwe

Joshua Morrison

Olganydia Plata Aguilera

Tommy Song

and by participants in the Columbia University & Slavery and Columbia 1968 seminars


With Support From

Columbia University Office of the President

Columbia University Office of the Provost


Columbia University Libraries