In light of Brown’s new investigation of its ties to slavery the YDN reflects on the continuing controversy over the dark side of the history of this institution and the men after whom its facilities are named, going back to the “Yale, Slavery, and Abolition” report released in 2001:
In what was perhaps the report’s most significant contribution, the authors documented extensive evidence of racist, pro-slavery tendencies in Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph and the man for whom Morse College is named. Morse, the report pointed out, was created in 1962, near the height of the Civil Rights movement.
The Yale administration’s response, as usual, is to discredit criticism of the University on one issue on the grounds that those making it have criticized the University on other issues rather than by reckoning with the facts. That, and an insinuation (well, more than an insinuation) that Yale beats Brown in the reckong-with-historical-connections-to-slavery department:
University President Richard Levin said Yale, unlike Brown, satisfactorily dealt with the issue slavery’s legacy two years ago when the Law School sponsored a conference on the topic. “I think they’re two years behind us,” Levin said.
Not everyone, however, is so blase:
For Owen Williams GRD ’08, a member of the New Haven Reparations Coalition who was present during the conference, the core issue of Yale’s involvement with, and responsibility for, its ties to slavery was never adequately addressed or resolved. “The conference had great intellectual merit, but it was a charade,” Williams said. “The issue of Yale was only discussed once, and very briefly.” Williams has recently completed work on a paper outlining the pro-slavery activity of John Calhoun, for whom Calhoun College was named.
Additional materials from the authors of the report are on-line here.
One step is confronting the entirety of Yale’s historical connection to slavery would be addressing the painting that sits over President Levin’s head in the Corporation room.
And no, this doesn’t count:
“I have to say when I first saw it I scratched my head and wondered what it was doing there,” University President Richard Levin said. “It’s probably worth discussion, but we haven’t had any yet. It’s obviously an artifact from a much different historical era, when people had a different perspective. But it’s certainly not consistent with our thinking today. I’ll grant that without any argument.”