New Information on the First Black Graduate of Yale

Edward Bouchet

For many years Edward Bouchet has been considered the first African American to graduate from Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut. Bouchet earned a bachelor’s degree in 1874 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in physics from Yale. (Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed, an African American, graduated from Yale Medical School in 1857.)

But now research by Rick Stattler, Americana specialist at Swann Auction Galleries in New York, has determined that Richard Henry Green was the first Black graduate of Yale College. Stattler found a reference to Green in the American Educational Annual of 1875 that stated that Green was the first Black man to earn a bachelor’s degree at Yale. He received his diploma in 1857, 27 years before Bouchet. Yale has confirmed Stattler’s findings.

Green was designated a “mulatto” in the 185o census and as Black in the 1860 census. Green married a White woman and the 1870 census listed him as White. His Yale records have no racial or ethnic information, according to university officials.

Green was a native of New Haven. After graduating from Yale he taught school in Milford, Connecticut. He later studied medicine at Dartmouth College. He died in 1877 at the age of 44.

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  1. I suggest that the historical ” firsts” continue to recognize Bouchet since this title suggests barriers that one had to overcome in order to accomplish. Bouchet identified as black and lived black. It doesn’t appear that Green did the same and it might be that the census taker refused to record anything other than black. Furthermore, by marrying white, Green probably was able to live white and probably, his descendants were able to do the same, unless . . . It would be interesting to know of Green’s success. With a PhD in Physics, Bouchet was unable to reach his full potential and was relegated to teaching high school. Sadly, because of racism, he was unable to find a job that was commensurate with his academic achievements.

    • Edward Bouchet has long been more than a “folk hero” among African American physical scientists. I like what Alexia suggests. It would make sense to list Bouchet as the first “Black-identified” Yale graduate of African descent and Green as “silent” with respect to his African heritage.

    • Excellent observations, Alexa, and I agree. The New York Times notes that ” As for Yale, it has announced no plans to change the way Mr. Bouchet is honored”.

    • The notion of “living Black” is at best a curious one. What are the standards for “living” Black? I assume here that “living white” is a euphemism for “passing.” This finding does not suggest that Green did not have barriers to overcome…and to what degree would that matter to whether or not he was Black…of African descent? By the logic at work in this post, I wonder what we would do with Alexander Dumas, Alexander Hamilton, Carol Channing, Victor Sejour… and what of Walter White or Charles Chesnutt? Are any of these people somehow less Black than Green? It was not at all uncommon for Blacks to appear as Black in one census and Mulatto in another…and it was also common that census takers made mistakes when moving from one family to another. But this is academic…the broader point is that we don’t seem to have developed a consensus about “who is or who is not Black.” If the following is actually true then Bouchet as a matter of fact was NOT the first and the record should reflect that: “Stattler found a reference to Green in the American Educational Annual of 1875 that stated that Green was the first Black man to earn a bachelor’s degree at Yale. He received his diploma in 1857, 27 years before Bouchet. Yale has confirmed Stattler’s findings”

  2. This is already well known. What this article completely misses is the most significant aspect: Bouchet was the “FIRST” Black to receive the PhD in an academic field (Yale, Physics in 1876). Also, per Dr. Ronald Mickens, depending on what is considered “physics”, he is either the 6th or 10th USA physicist.

  3. They are both Black Yale firsts, thus both researchers are correct. Dr.Bouchet is the first to graduate with a terminal degree. Green is the first to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree.

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