Black men who suffered racial injustice at Yale finally get degrees

Both men are to be honored this fall when the university plans to host a ceremony to commemorate their honorary degrees.

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Two Black theology students who attended Yale University in the 19th century have received posthumous degrees, News 8 reports. 

On Monday, Yale University’s board of trustees voted to confer the M.A. Privatim degree to the late Rev. Alexander Crummel and the late Rev. James W.C. Pennington, according to a letter from the president’s office.

Pennington and Crummell suffered several injustices during their time at the Ivy League school in the 1830s and 1840s. Both men were not allowed to register for classes nor access library resources and participate in classroom discussions because of their race.

Yale University Law School is pictured. In the fall, the university plans to host a ceremony to honor two black men who have posthumously received degrees. The 19th-century students did not graduate because of discriminatory practices at the time. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

“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,” President Peter Salovey said in the statement.

Pennington and Crummell studied theology at Yale. Pennington was a student from 1834 to 1837 and Crummell attended the university in 1840 and 1841, according to the university. They were not allowed to matriculate for a degree due to racism.

According to New 8, Pennington was also the first Black student to attend Yale.

“Despite suffering these and other injustices, they audited classes and went on to become noted pastors, guiding others with dignity and conscience toward liberation and equality,” Salovey says in the statement. “Both were leaders in the abolition movement.”

Crummell founded the American Negro Academy in Washington, D.C. Pennington, born enslaved, wrote the first African American textbook and penned an autobiography titled “The Fugitive Blacksmith.”

Ironically, it was in the 19th century when the board of trustees conferred the M.A. Privatim degree — an honorary master’s for those who could “not complete their studies due to special circumstances” — but Pennington and Crummell did not benefit from it then because it was the same period during which they were the targets of discriminatory practices.

Both men are to be posthumously honored this fall when the university plans to host a ceremony to commemorate their honorary degrees, according to Salovey’s statement. “It will be a moment for us to reflect on our history and reaffirm our commitment to creating a stronger and more inclusive Yale.”

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