Discovery Leads Yale to Revise a Chapter of Its Black History

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, History, United States on 2014-03-18 03:01Z by Steven

Discovery Leads Yale to Revise a Chapter of Its Black History

The New York Times

Ariel Kaminer

On the campus of Yale University, Edward Bouchet has long been a venerated name. Hailed as the first African-American to graduate from Yale College, in 1874, he went on to be the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. (and only the sixth person nationwide to earn one in physics).

In recognition of the path he forged, Yale has convened seminars and lecture series in his name, bestowed the Bouchet Leadership Awards in Minority Graduate Education and hung an oil painting of him — a young man in formal attire, looking off with an expression of dignified purpose — in a prominent spot at the main library.

Mr. Bouchet’s accomplishments still inspire many young students. But it seems one of his distinctions actually belongs to someone else.

Newly uncovered records suggest that Yale awarded a bachelor’s degree to another African-American man almost two decades before Mr. Bouchet received his diploma.

That man, according to an article being published on Saturday by the Yale Alumni Magazine, was Richard Henry Green. Born in 1833 to a local bootmaker who helped found St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in New Haven, he sat for the entrance examination and was admitted in 1853. Undergraduates did not have majors in those days, so Mr. Green, along with his 100 or so classmates (in what was at the time America’s largest college), read history, philosophy, literature and the like. He lived at his family’s home but he appears to have been active in campus life, joining the literary society Brothers in Unity as well as the fraternity Sigma Delta…

…Edward Bouchet, who graduated summa cum laude and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, was celebrated in his day as a pioneer. According to Judith Schiff, Yale’s chief research archivist, “a campus periodical at the time talks about him coming as the first — isn’t it wonderful that he’s here and we hope he can make a good record for his race.”

Far less, if anything, is known about how Mr. Green was viewed, or even how he viewed himself. “He certainly didn’t stand out as a landmark person,” Ms. Schiff said.

His school records make no note of his race. In the 1850 census, he is listed as “mulatto”; 10 years later, the census recorded him as black. His wife’s family was white, and that is how the 1870 census categorized him and his daughter…

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