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A Yale tercentennial brochure, published in 2001, summarizes Yale's relation to slavery:

From James Hillhouse 1773, the leader of the anti-slavery movement in the First Federal Congress, to Josiah Willard Gibbs 1809, who befriended the captives of the Amistad, to John W. Blassingame '70 PhD, who edited Frederick Douglass's speeches, Yale graduates and faculty have had a long history of activism in the face of slavery and a modern history of scholarship about it. Today the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, located at Yale, is the first of its kind in the world. Three figures--Hillhouse, Gibbs, and Blassingame--stand for Yale's "long history of activism in the face of slavery.

It is true that these three Yale leaders stand in a tradition of strong opposition to slavery. But a story that begins and ends with them does not tell the full story of Yale's relationship to slavery.

This essay attempts to complete the picture: In the 1930s and 1960s, Yale chose to name most of its colleges after slave owners and pro-slavery leaders. In 1831, Yale leaders helped stop an effort to expand higher education for African-Americans in New Haven.

In opening the series of Tercentennial lectures, "Democratic Vistas," Anthony Kronman, Dean of Yale's Law School, tied together the histories of democracy and of Yale:

Yale has been shaped by, and has helped to shape, the democratic institutions of American life ... Yale is a distinctively American university whose past cannot be understood, or future surmised, apart from the unfolding drama of American democracy itself.

During the first half of Yale's history, from 1701 until the Civil War, the most significant obstacle to democracy was the institution of slavery. Today, it is hard to overestimate the role that Yale plays in establishing public awareness of, and response to, history. After 300 years, Yale has become one of the preeminent arbiters of truth--indeed, of lux et veritas--in our world today.

Yale's tercentennial literature urges the university community to avoid the "self-congratulatory" spirit that pervaded its bicentennial celebrations in 1901. Yale's 300th anniversary "should be used for serious scholarly reflection about the institution's progress in the past century" and "should include an element of self-assessment and not be simply self-congratulatory" (1).

As members of the Yale community, we have researched and written this essay in that spirit. An opportunity now stands before all of us: Together, we can play an important role in the emerging national conversation about the continuing legacy of slavery inherited from a history that includes today's most prestigious institutions.

For a printable version of the full report, download the PDF

For two tables that summarize everyone, see Appendix 1 and Appendix 2

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Appendix 1
Appendix 2

for a table of Yale leaders
and their honors

Numbers in parentheses refer to notes. See the notes page.