CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On a cloudy day this summer, Roberta Wolff-Platt paid a visit to Christ Church, a short walk from Harvard Yard. Standing at the edge of a crypt in the church basement, she marveled that her ancestor Darby Vassall, born enslaved, had been buried here, improbably sharing a grave with the couple who owned his parents.
Ms. Wolff-Platt, who is 80, learned just a few years ago that she was related to the Vassalls. That revelation led to an even more surprising connection to Harvard University — a place she had lived near much of her life but where she had never imagined she belonged.
Thanks to a student research project on the university’s ties to slavery, she and her extended family have become the first to be publicly identified as descendants of enslaved men and women who served Harvard’s presidents, professors and — in their case — benefactors.