New Haven residents gathered at the Center Church on the Green Friday night to commemorate the 170th anniversary of attempts to form a black college and to draw continued attention to Yale’s involvement with slavery.
Clergy and community activists demanded reparations from the University based on the findings of three doctoral candidates who this summer wrote a report critical of Yale’s support of slaveholders. Some Yale professors who study slavery have questioned the accuracy of parts of the essay, “Yale, Slavery and Abolition,” but University administrators plan to meet with activists this month to discuss the reparation demands.
In September 1831, the Rev. Simeon Jocelyn proposed the founding of a college for black seminarians in New Haven, but later that month the Yale supported-Board of Alderman passed a resolution that stated a college for blacks would be “incompatible with the prosperity, if not the existence of the present institutions of learning, and will be destructive to the best interests of the city.”
The Amistad Committee and the New Haven Slavery Reparation Task Force reiterated demands Friday for Yale to make certain changes to compensate for its reported involvement with slavery.
The Rev. Eric Smith of the Community Baptist Church said the group wants Yale to change the name of all residential colleges named after slaveowners and traders.
Second, they want a fund created that would give New Haven residents no-interest loans or grants for the economic development of New Haven. Third, they asked Yale to give $6 million a year to New Haven public schools. The group calculated the figure by determining the difference between the amount of taxes Yale would pay on its property if the University were not tax-exempt and the amount the state currently reimburses the city in payments in lieu of taxes.
Last, the group asked for the formation of a college scholarship fund for New Haven high school graduates.
But slavery was so pervasive before the 19th century that even Center Church’s history is intermingled with slavery.
From 1673 to 1797 the pastors of Center Church were slaveowners, but Friday the church’s pastor, Shepard Parson, sent out a message of repentance.
“The Greek word to repent literally translates to to turn around or to think differently,” Parson said. “Center Church’s history is also dappled at best.”
He said he repents the wrongs committed by Center Church, “particularly of slavery and racism.”
Gerald Horne, the author of the forward to “Yale, Slavery and Abolition” and a professor of African-American studies at the University of North Carolina, said he was optimistic about New Haven’s situation.
For Yale, Horne said, “this is the time to get involved in a righteous nitty gritty political struggle.”