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The New York Times / New York University

Rachel L. Swarns is a journalist, author and professor, who writes about race and race relations as a contributing writer for The New York Times. Her articles about Georgetown University’s roots in slavery touched off a national conversation about American universities and their ties to this painful period of history.  

Swarns has reported on immigration, presidential politics and First Lady Michelle Obama and her role in the Obama White House.  She has reported from Russia, Cuba, Guatemala and southern Africa, where she served as the Times’ Johannesburg bureau chief. She has also served as a Metro columnist in New York City. She is currently an associate professor of journalism at New York University.

She is the author of “American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama,’’ published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, in June 2012. “American Tapestry” was ranked as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012 by The NYT Book Review and as one of the “year’s outstanding books for public library collections” by Booklist.

She is also a co-author of “Unseen: Unpublished Black History from The New York Times Photo Archives,’’ which was published by Black Dog & Leventhal in October 2017. Her forthcoming book about Georgetown’s roots in slavery will be published by Random House.

Swarns also serves as an academic adviser to the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, D.C., which is launching an exhibit based on her book about Michelle Obama’s ancestors. 


The Nuns Who Sold and Bought Human Beings (The New York Times)

The Seminary Flourished on Slave Labor. Now It’s Planning to Pay Reparations. (The New York Times)

272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown. What Does It Owe Their Descendants? (The New York Times)