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 COMMENT

  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

Yale Library Acquires Digital Collection of Langston Hughes Papers

In a recent December upload, the Yale University Library added a collection of papers from Black poet Langston Hughes to the school's online archive. The collection contains correspondence between Hughes and other authors and civil rights activists of his time.

Academic Fields Where Blacks Earned Few or No Doctoral Degrees in 2022

In 2022, African Americans earned 1.2 percent of all mathematics and statistics doctorates, 1.2 percent of all doctorates in computer science, 1.7 percent of all doctorates in chemistry, and only 1.7 percent of all doctorates awarded in engineering disciplines.

Historically Black Central State University Appoints Morakinyo Kuti as President

Morakinyo A.O. Kuti has been named president of historically Black Central State University in Ohio. Dr. Kuti has held numerous leadership roles in his tenure with the university, most recently serving as vice president of research and economic development.

University of Alabama Creates Database Relating to History of Slavery on Campus

Scholars from the University of Alabama created an online database housing information on the history of slavery on the university's campus. The new website is the latest effort in a larger initiative from the Consortium of Universities Studying Slavery to uncover the history of enslaved individuals who labored for colleges and universities across the world.

Featured Jobs