Yale University Awards Degrees to Two of its First Students

Yale University is awarding degrees to two Black men who studied at Yale in the nineteenth century and are thought to be among the first Black students on campus.

Rev. Pennington

James W. C. Pennington (1808-1870) and Alexander Crummell (1819-1898) studied at Yale from 1834 to 1837 and 1840 to 1841, respectively. Because they were Black, however, the university did not allow them to register formally for classes or matriculate for a degree. Pennington and Crummell could not participate in classroom discussions or access library resources. Despite suffering these and other injustices, they audited classes and went on to become noted pastors.

Pennington, born enslaved, published a powerful autobiography, The Fugitive Blacksmith, as well as the first African American history textbook. Crummell was a pan-African scholar and organizer and founded the American Negro Academy in Washington, D.C. Both were leaders in the abolition movement.

Rev. Crummell

Peter Salovey, president of Yale University, stated that “although we cannot return to Pennington and Crummell the access and privileges they were denied when they studied at Yale, we recognize their work and honor their legacies by conferring on them these M.A. Privatim degrees. In the nineteenth century, the board of trustees awarded this honorary master’s degree to individuals who were unable to complete their studies due to special circumstances. That historical context has resonance for these two visionary leaders who studied at Yale and took bold action in the face of unrelenting racism during the nineteenth century.”

Richard Henry Greene of the Class of 1857 was, in all likelihood, the first Black graduate of Yale College. (See JBHE post.)

Related Articles


  1. Rev Crummell was an activist, educator, mentor to WEB Dubois and a fascinating historical figure from my perspective. I always wanted to learn more about him. The recognition from Yale seems appropriate given what they endured during that time.

Leave a Reply

Get the JBHE Weekly Bulletin

Receive our weekly email newsletter delivered to your inbox

Latest News

Winston-Salem State University and Wake Forest University Establish a Pathway Program for Aspiring Physician Assistants

Through their most recent collaboration, the physician assistant program at Wake Forest University will begin formally recruiting Winston-Salem State University students who meet admission requirements and have been recommended by Winston-Salem State University leadership.

Three African American Men Appointed to New Academic Positions

The three African American male scholars appointed to new roles are E. Albert Reece at the University of Maryland, Duane Watson at Vanderbilt University, and Steven Starks of the University of Houston..

Hampton University Launches Seven Online Degree Programs in Business and Theology

Historically Black Hampton University in Virginia has expanded its online offerings by launching a new one-year MBA degree and six degree programs from the School of Religion.

Angelo Moore Recognized for Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Cancer Research

The American Cancer Society has presented its annual Fredda Bryan National Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award to Angelo Moore, executive director of the Center of Excellence for Integrative Health Disparities and Equity Research at North Carolina A&T State University.

Featured Jobs