Yale’s future slavery study should bring up state’s anti-abolitionist heritage

To the Editor:

I applaud your decision to highlight Yale’s slavery controversy in Monday’s edition of the News (“Slavery complicates University’s history,” 10/30). I think a kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission similar to the Brown initiative is sorely needed. Most people do not realize the depths of Northern complicity and racism before and after the Civil War. How many, for example, know that Connecticut was the most violently anti-abolitionist state in New England?

Complicity was not monolithic, however. There is another side to the controversy that tends to be left out in some discussions: the slaves, free blacks and abolitionists who consistently challenged white supremacist hegemony from Day One. Although they were a tiny minority, there were abolition activists at Yale and elsewhere who criticized the conservative leadership of the University — especially their role in blocking the “New Haven Negro College.” That these abolitionists were angrily denounced in the media, mobbed, shot at and had their meeting houses blown up right here in Connecticut says a lot about the power of slavery and racism at this time. But any full account of Yale’s relationship to slavery cannot ignore the fact that these brave voices were there, challenging this shameful legacy long before 21st century Ivy Leaguers decided to look into the matter.

Joseph Yannielli

Oct. 30

The writer is a graduate student in the Department of History.