The Yale Daily News’ editorial (“Taking a Closer Look at the Slavery Report,” 12/12) and the investigative report on the essay “Yale, Slavery and Abolition” (“Yale Slavery Report Questioned by Experts,” 12/12) are less than one would expect from the Yale Daily News. Both items ignored the authors’ message, instead attacking the messengers.
The message is that, in the past, many Yale leaders and alumni supported slavery. Of Yale’s 12 colleges, nine are named for persons who “were either slave owners or published views in support of slavery.”
Considering the long list of great presidents and distinguished professors who have served Yale and the thousands of illustrious graduates the school has produced, doesn’t it seem odd that nine of the 12 colleges are named for friends of slavery?
What does this mean today to Yale and its alumni and supporters? I am sure professor David Brion Davis is correct when he says, “It’s much worse than what the paper makes it out to be.”
According to the investigative report, Davis also said a more well-written paper would not be less damaging to Yale.
If this is the case, why didn’t some professor respond to Yale’s publication — on the occasion of its tercentennial — of a brochure portraying itself as slavery’s indefatigable opponent?
Previously, the University declared the Tercentennial “should include an element of self-assessment and not be simply self-congratulatory.”
The work of the report’s authors has been termed “amateurish.” If it were so, which I don’t believe it is, the charge should be against Yale faculty.
Doctoral candidates should not be amateurs. They should be well-grounded in the methodologies of their disciplines. A basic tenet of historical scholarship is that conclusions should be well-supported by valid documentary evidence.
Indeed, I am convinced the graduate students have demonstrated their knowledge of the historical method. They have documented their conclusion to the satisfaction of some distinguished historians. If the critics know of some documentation that would contradict what the authors have concluded, those persons should come forward with the evidence.
I find it significant that the critics have instead engaged in nitpicking the substance of the essay, mostly in regard to the origins of Ezra Stiles, Timothy Dwight, and the proposed Negro college.
To be sure, Stiles and Dwight are not in the same class of racists as John C. Calhoun and Samuel F.B. Morse. Nevertheless, they were slaveholders, and that’s what the essay is about. Also, both sought to justify slavery as it existed in America.
The authors are accused of discussing the Negro college issue out of context. The truth is they clearly put the decision not to support the college in the context of the blatant racism and fear of doing anything that would offend the South. Such attitudes pervaded New Haven and Connecticut at the time.
If Stiles and Dwight are defended because of the context in which they acted, how does one defend Yale for naming a college after Calhoun in the 1930s and after Morse in the 1960s?
I hope the faculty, students and alumni of Yale; the people of New Haven; the state of Connecticut; and the nation will not allow nitpicking and attacks on the credibility of the authors to destroy the meaning and validity of the message.
I hope discussion will continue. If the Confederate flag is considered a symbol of rebellion that should be removed from public buildings, then one must ask, what about John C. Calhoun?
Clifton H. Johnson is the executive director emeritus of the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans, La.