Anonymous campaign ‘renames’ colleges with slave past

Chalk writing on Cross Campus draws attention to some of Yale’s residential college namesakes’ historical connection to slavery.
Chalk writing on Cross Campus draws attention to some of Yale’s residential college namesakes’ historical connection to slavery. Photo by Rachel Wang.

Chalk inscriptions and paper fliers appeared around residential colleges this week, proposing new names for the colleges whose namesakes were slave-owners or supporters of slavery. But no one has claimed responsibility for the campaign, which has puzzled both administrators and student groups.

Calhoun, Davenport, Jonathan Edwards, Morse, Silliman, Timothy Dwight and Trumbull colleges were “renamed,” as were other buildings named for slavery supporters, including Vanderbilt and Woodbridge halls. Those responsible renamed Berkeley College and Bingham Hall because their namesakes advocated mistreatment of Native Americans.

Signs draw attention to some of Yale’s residential college namesakes’ historical connection to slavery.
Signs draw attention to some of Yale’s residential college namesakes’ historical connection to slavery.

The News received an e-mail Monday night, under the pseudonym “Dick’ [sic] Levin,” that accused Yale of honoring slave-owners by naming buildings after proponents and owners of slaves. The e-mail proposed renaming colleges to honor pro-abolition figures, such as “Frederick Douglass College” for Calhoun and “Bobby Seale College” for Timothy Dwight. The writers did not respond to a request for an interview.

Judith Krauss, Master of Silliman College (which was renamed to Joseph Cinqué College, after the leader of the 1839 Amistad slave uprising) said she was not pleased about the writing.

“To be honest, I find the chalking to be a mild but nonetheless annoying defacement of property, an ineffective way to call my attention to a serious topic,” she said in an e-mail Tuesday.

She said the writing is not likely to have any impact on the naming of Yale’s planned new colleges, if that is intended.

Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said he does not know who organized the event and does not plan on disciplining whoever is responsible. As to the issue for which the signs advocate, Gentry said he has not yet formed an opinion.

Af-Am House Dean Pamela George said Tuesday that even after conversations with students, she does not know who is responsible for the signs.

“I know nothing of this situation, nor would I assume that any African American student or group had something to do with it,” George said in an e-mail.

Members of students organizations affiliated with the Af-Am House, such as Black Students Alliance at Yale and the Yale National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said they were similarly mystified by the chalking.

“I have no clue who orchestrated this, but it’s a pretty provocative way to protest,” Rodney Reynolds ’10, a coordinator of the Yale Black Men’s Union, said.

And while Berkeley College was renamed Henry Roe Cloud College after the first Native American to attend Yale College, Skawenniio Barnes ’10, a member of the Native American Cultural Center, said that after asking other members of the Association of Native Americans at Yale, she had no idea who was behind the chalkings. (The Native American Cultural Center celebrated “Indigenous Peoples Day,” a holiday chosen to coincide with Columbus Day, on Monday, the same day the colleges were “renamed.”)

Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway, who teaches a popular survey of African-American history each year, said that from a historian’s point of view, he hopes the writing will open up discussion, although he is not necessarily in favor of changing the colleges’ names.

“It is something that the University should always be talking about,” Holloway said.

Four colleges — Ezra Stiles, Pierson, Saybrook and Branford — were unaffected. Abraham Pierson was a minister who co-founded the Collegiate School, which was eventually renamed Yale College. Ezra Stiles himself supported the abolition movement, and Saybrook and Branford colleges are named after towns in Connecticut.

Correction: October 14, 2009

An earlier version of this article misrepresented the biography of Joseph Cinqué. He was the leader of the slaves in the 1839 Amistad uprising, not a lawyer who defended them.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    And they’re still all men, I see. What about Harriet Tubman College?

  • History Nerd

    Thanks for the article! Just a heads up, though: Joseph Cinque wasn’t a lawyer for the Amistad slave rebels. He was actually one of the slave leaders of the uprising and the principal defendant in the subsequent court case.

  • Joe W.

    The problem with this sort of thing is it demands a sort of historical “angelism”… that is, a historical personage must have been perfect to be worthy of remembering. We can recognize that the namesakes of Yale’s colleges did many good things even though they did things we wouldn’t do today. But it is the nature of college students (esp. Yalies!) to act in hyperbolic and self-important ways. I did the same things myself at Yale.

  • Yale Historian

    “Silliman College (which was renamed to Joseph Cinqué College, after a lawyer who defended the slaves in the 1839 Amistad uprising)”

    Ugh. Perhaps it should be renamed thus. That way, students would realize that Cinqué (whose actual name was Sengbe Pieh) was an enslaved African and the leader of the Amistad uprising. A simple Google search would have helped here.

  • Hieronymus

    *Yawn*

    Been there; done that.

  • Y ’07

    With every new crop of Yalies this issue comes up again. As a minority student in Calhoun, I never affiliated my residence with the slave owner and advocate of slavery. He was a Vice President and a great orator. It would make no sense to rename existing colleges. The new colleges, however, should reflect the change in the times.

  • Flora

    Morse argued that slavery was ordained by god (See the quote in front of SML). Morse college was named in 1961, during the civil rights movement. Nice move Yale.

    Berkeley advocated the kidnapping of native american children so that the “savages” could be reeducated at a school he wanted to found….

    check out http://www.yaleslavery.org for more info.

    Sure historical “angelism” is difficult, but there are plenty of important historical figures who were nowhere near as despicable as some of the men we honor every day. Hillhouse, for example, was the first US senator to oppose slavery.

    Trumbull was renamed Judith Butler college. If you look up yaleslavery.org you’ll learn that Trumbull bought himself a female slave named Flora.

  • @ #1

    As pictured in the newspaper, Trumbull (who owned a female slave) was named after Judith Butler–Yale alum and feminist theorist.

  • Just another nobody

    Leaders are nothing without their followers. Rename everything after John and Jane Doe and A.N. Other!

  • dumbstruck

    Do these people honestly think that the colleges were named after slaveholders because of their slaveholding? The only adjective that comes to mind for this ‘protest’ is ‘dumb’.

  • ROFLCOPTER

    Martin Luther King Jr was an adulterer. Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus. Malcolm X was a murderer and pimp for years. George Washington owned slaves.

    There are no angels in the past — only men.

  • Y11

    Oh boy. New low, guys. Butler, Cinque, Red Cloud- that’s all well and good… we get it, protestors are trying to make a point- we’re all glorifying white oppressors and we should disown the founding fathers, Old Yale, Rome, blah blah blah… fine, whatever. Harmless, discussion-provoking. But renaming one of the colleges “Bobby Seale” is a bridge too far. The man called for the destruction of Yale, advocated killings of white students and cops and, YES, ordered the assassination of Alex Rackley, a fellow back civil rights advocate/black revolutionary. Just because a jury was racially strong-armed into acquitting him doesn’t mean he wasn’t guilty of that, and plenty of other crimes. The comparative irony only goes so far.

  • Tanner

    Sounds like an early semester project perhaps its affiliated with one of New Haven’s public schools. Hence the two errors.Perhaps Calhoun should be renamed McCain College so Yale can still honor “The Great Compromiser.”

  • DoodleLover

    As always, people of Asian or Pacific Islands descent are not even on the radar, even though they make up more than 15% of the Yale College community and were held to higher admissions standards than their white, black, Hispanic and native American counterparts. Why are they silent?

  • Steve ’73

    This is not a frivolous topic. I have wondered for several years whether John C. Calhoun, for example, has sufficient positive connections with Yale to merit his continued prominence on campus. In briefly reviewing materials on Senator Hillhouse (who was evidently Yale’s treasurer for 50 years), it seems odd that he would not have been honored in a more visible way by now. Undoubtedly there are many other fine persons closely associated with Yale’s history who should be recognized instead of some people.

  • IndianAlum

    If this is really a serious campaign, I’m surprised that no one has thought of changing “Yale” College. After all, Elihu Yale’s treatment of Indians, as governor of the British East India Company and of Madras, was also shameful. He supported the enslavement and trade of my ancestors, too, and imposed his will through some fairly brutal means.

    Or is the abuse of some minority groups okay in a namesake?

  • Davidson

    I would have thought that Yale undergraduates have more important projects to fill their time–like attending class and studying. Didn’t the Bladderball game–a wonderful experience for participants which I personally endorse–use up most of their energy?

    The silly effort to rename the colleges is a fine example of wasting one’s time and talent.

    About the term “Native Americans.” I was born in the United States; that fact alone should qualify me as a Native American–even though my ancestors came from Europe several generations ago. The term “native” refers directly to one’s birth.

    Taking a cue from “African-American,” shouldn’t we begin using the identifier “Mongolian-American”–or perhaps Siberian-American or even Asian-American–for those people whose ancestors migrated from Siberia several thousand years ago.

    Better yet, let’s identify each other as simply “Americans”, regardless of our particular race or ethnicity. Take a cue from our President.

  • Hieronymus

    Hmmm… I didn’t see any Jewish names up there… you know, historical victims of overt discrimination at Yale…

    But, of course, they’re just white (you know, kinda like Asian Americans are…).

    Oy.

  • history nerd

    Bobby Seale probably shouldn’t be labeled as an abolitionist….more Black Panther…..yeah

  • YLS 12

    I want to join this group of people.

  • robert99

    Sounds like there isn’t enough homework and extracurricular stuff to occupy/ amuse some of the student body.

  • to be fair

    its just a frickin residential college. get over it. stirring up controversy for the sake of stirring up controversy is annoying as #$@%.

  • CC12

    This discussion is moot, anyway, because the proposal is pretty much impossible: rename 2/3 of the colleges and alumni donations would drop by about 2/3. For their old college to no longer exist would eliminate the connection many alumni feel to their Yale experience, and would probably make many of them downright angry. Even people from the remaining 4 colleges would likely be upset.

    But I do have to give this group credit for showing that Calhoun is not the only college named after a slavery proponent. Now there’s less likely to be a push to rename Calhoun, because it would be hypocritical for people in 7 other colleges to advocate renaming Calhoun while keeping the names of their own colleges.

  • BR63

    Why not rename them for actual Yale abolitionist graduates?

    Theodore Sedgwick, Class of 1765
    Seth P. Staples, Class of 1797
    Roger Sherman Baldwin, Class of 1811
    Cassius Marcellus Clay, Class of 1832
    Charles Torrey, Class of 1833

    Why not lobby for some of these names for the new colleges?

    Or, consider whether each person’s individual involvement with slavery outweighed each person’s individual support of Yale.

    Should Yale give away any bits of its endowment that came from slave money?

    At what point do we move on, move forward?

  • anonymous

    http://www.yaleslavery.org/Resources/about.html#contact

    i trust someone already noticed this and contacted these folks, who are probably related?

  • YaleProf

    Charges of “angelism” usually boil to this: “sure, he was a schmuck, but he didn’t do anything to *my* people.”

    Just imagine if one of the colleges were named Adolf Hitler College (I know, I know, no connection to Yale… we hope). My guess is that most people would wretch. Well, John C. Calhoun was no Hitler, that is clear, but he was a fervent advocate of slavery and the sub-human status of black people. His actions and thoughts helped provoke the worst war in US history. You don’t have to hold people up to the standard of “angel” to object to asking students to live in something named after Calhoun.

  • @YaleProf

    How can you condemn charges of “angelism?” You focus only on Calhoun College while, as #16 points out, Yale’s larger namesake was involved in the oppression of a different minority group.

    For this movement to escape hypocrisy, it should focus on ALL instances of ALL oppression, not just those in early America.

  • Joe

    I don’t think this will get posted, but it’s worth a try. NO APOLOGIES FOR SLAVERY .

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYBqBIf_eHk

  • ROFLCOPTER

    The question is not angelism. The question is whether or not we should protest every institution named after George Washington, Eli Yale, and Thomas Jefferson because they owned slaves.

    It’s ludicrously stupid. The most that any man in the 1700s would do with respect to slavery is condemn it in the softest of tones and the quietest of voices. It is a stain on the face of humanity (and slavery continues in some parts of the world even today…) but if we only celebrated men who did not support the institution of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, colonialism, and institutional sexism then we would be limited to the narrow band of people who lived in the past 20 years.

    Note that none of the students involved in this farce were Black or Native American. They were white boys out to score cheap points.

    And yes, I am a black man.

  • Tanner

    How about they rename a college for Clarance Thomas that should make everybody happy. Right?

  • dk

    I saw the chalk on Cross Campus and thought it was about the custodial and dining workers. Need to pick better phrasing, people!

  • local guy

    Nice post #30 – Clarence Thomas. Also, How about a GWHBush, if we need to honor prominent alums??

  • G

    Am I the only one who thinks that it is a little odd that the writer only asked minority-student groups if they knew who did the chalkings? It implicitly suggests that only minorities have a stack in commenting on the legacy of slavery in the US. It is pretty offensive to assume that the commentary came from a member of the Native American or Black communities.

  • bobby light

    Wow, as i sit and read these posting a year later some of y’all are racist ya self. It’s just simple as this don’t let history repeat it self. The article itself is disrespectful, So remember wene looking back at history all of the oppression done to innocent people. Just think what if someone named a college after nat tuner…HMMMM