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.

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