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“There is a small class of very small men who turn their backs upon anyone who presumes to be anybody, independent of Harvard, Yale, Princeton or other similar institutions of learning…With them the diploma is more than the man….Some ‘Yale boys’ carry a ‘haughty manner.’  But there never was a self-educated man who, with the same exertion, would not have been better educated by the aid of schools and colleges.”

- Frederick Douglass, “Self-Made Men,” 1893

“Yale and Slavery in Historical Perspective,” the 2021 GLC annual conference, examined the University’s involvement with slavery, as uncovered by Yale and Slavery working group members and considered by scholars from Yale and beyond. The conference also engaged with New Haven communities in its larger efforts to address both local and national implications of reckoning with the past.

View full sessions of the 2021 annual conference here.

Our Purpose 

In announcing the establishment of the Yale and Slavery Working Group on October 14, 2020, Yale University President Peter Salovey stated, “To understand where we are today and to move forward as a community, we must study the history of our university. As an American institution that is 319 years old, Yale has a complex past that includes associations, many of them formative, with individuals who actively promoted slavery, anti-Black racism, and other forms of exploitation. We have a responsibility to explore this history, including its most difficult aspects; we cannot ignore our institution’s own ties to slavery and racism, and we should take this opportunity to research, understand, analyze, and communicate that history.”

Our Work

The Yale and Slavery Working Group (YSWG) is focused on a deep and thorough investigation of Yale’s historic involvement and associations with slavery and its aftermath. The findings will help build a clearer and more comprehensive history of Yale and contribute to the scholarship on slavery and abolition more broadly.

The working group was organized in late 2020 and began intensive research in 2021. Led by David Blight, Sterling Professor of History, of African American Studies, and of American Studies and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center, the YSWG includes faculty, staff, librarians, and New Haven community members, with administrative leadership from the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at the MacMillan Center.

The research draws on resources from across Yale, such as the Department of African American Studies; the Department of History; the Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration; the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration; the divinity, law, and medical schools; the libraries and museums; and other units. Several student research assistants have been working to examine documents and materials in Yale archives and other research collections.

Preview some of the historical findings that members of the Working Group are developing in Featured Research. You can also listen to some initial findings from the 18th Century in the video below. 

As part of the Yale and Slavery Research Project, the “Gleaming in the Shadow of Slavery” webinar presented unique perspectives shared by descendants of early African-American staff and students at Yale, to highlight Black men and women whose lives intersected with Yale and their living or recent experiences and memories of slavery.

Our Goals 

In the fall of 2021, the YSWG will share initial research findings more widely for discussion, remembrance, and learning. The cornerstone of this community engagement will be a public conference on October 28 - 30. The research project aims to produce a final narrative report and recommendations for further action by the first half of 2022.

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