Rollins’ descendant establishes endowment for black studies program

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 | 8:45 p.m. CST; updated 7:25 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — A descendant of James S. Rollins, a “Father of the University of Missouri” and former slave owner, has established a $25,000 endowment to support MU’s black studies program.

Clay Mering, of Tucson, Ariz., is the great-great-grandson of Rollins, who owned as many as 34 slaves before the Civil War, according to an MU news release. Rollins helped pass the law that opened MU, donated land for the original campus and served on the UM System Board of Curators for 18 years.

The endowment fund, The James S. Rollins Slavery Atonement Award, will support research, travel expenses for conferences, sponsoring of conferences and seminars and scholarship awards, according to the release.

“I had known that he owned slaves from childhood, since I was 7 years old, but I didn’t think about it too much,” Mering said. “I didn’t really consider addressing it.”

He said it occurred to him than an endowment would be a good idea.

“It was important to be able to afford to do the endowment,” Mering said. “I’m glad I was able to do it because an endowment lasts over the years. Theoretically it could last forever.”

The mission of MU’s black studies program is “to train scholars to teach and research the World Black Experience,” according to the program’s Web site.

“This is a significant gesture and we are grateful for Mr. Mering’s generosity,” said Michael Middleton, deputy chancellor and representative for MU’s black studies program, in the news release. “It would be wonderful to see a groundswell of similar efforts and contributions come from this. It is a gift from the heart, which is gratifying to all parties involved.”

Mering also hopes similar efforts will come from his endowment.

“I hope it will inspire people to set up funds elsewhere or add to my own endowment.”

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