Graduate Essay Finds Yale History Intertwined with Slavery
NEW HAVEN, Conn.
The founding fathers of Yale University and important men in the school’s 300-year history are remembered to this day in stone and stained glass.
But three graduate students report in a newly published essay that some of these Yale leaders and graduates earned their status through the blood and sweat of slaves.
Some of these men have residential colleges named after them, including one that was named in the middle of the 1960s civil rights struggle.
The university’s history is being examined as some city leaders support reparations for the descendants of slaves and other institutions explore their links to slavery.
“Universities are all about pursuing the truth, and that’s what we see going on here,” says Antony Dugdale, one author of the essay. “All universities across the country should research their history and help this country come to terms with its past.”
Yale spokesman Tom Conroy says the essay fits in with a yearlong examination of Yale’s history on the 300th anniversary of its founding.
“No institution with a history stretching long before emancipation is untainted by the evils of slavery, and our discussion of those connections is important and worthwhile,” Conroy says.
Yale is home to the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition.
The university also has among its prominent leaders and graduates many leaders in the abolitionist movement.
The essay’s authors are labor union activists on campus. Dugdale is a full-time researcher for the Federation of Hospital and University Employees, and the other authors, J.J. Fueser and J. Celso de Castro Alves, are leaders of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization.
Dugdale says the paper was not an attempt to embarrass Yale, but says “the union drive and the struggle for racial justice are all interconnected as part of a larger struggle to make Yale accountable.”
The Amistad Committee Inc., a nonprofit group that aims to end slavery and racial injustice worldwide, has published the essay in a 60-page booklet, on sale for $5.
Alfred Marder, president of the group, says Yale should rename buildings that are named after founders who owned slaves or supported slavery.
“If we had a Confederate flag flying at City Hall … what would be the reaction of every citizen in our city? It would be revulsion, and we would make sure it was no longer there,” Marder says.
One of the residential colleges — which are dormitory communities for undergraduates — is named after Samuel B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, who spoke in favor of slavery during Civil War times. Morse College was not named until 1962, while the civil rights movement was exploding around the country.
Another college is named after John C. Calhoun, a slave owner and outspoken defender of slavery who was vice president to John Quincy Adams.
Gaddis Smith, a Yale historian who is working on a book about the university’s 20th century history, says Calhoun has been a controversial figure on campus, but he could not recall any dispute about Morse.
“I don’t think Yale has anything to be embarrassed about,” Smith says. “We can say, ‘Yes, our ancestors were part of a time that had many reprehensible aspects.’ ”
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