ast August, with Yale in the midst of preparations for its huge 300th-birthday bash, three graduate students dropped a bomb on the university in the form of a report, entitled "Yale, Slavery and Abolition." To cause maximum damage, they coordinated with the New York Times, which published a story on the report the same day it was released.
The authors, Antony Dugdale, J. J. Fueser, and J. Celso de Castro Alves, set out to expose Yale's slave-holding roots and early dependence on slave-trading money, to paint Yale as a bastion of pro-slavery thought, and to tarnish the reputations of Yale's founders and leading men. Among these latter, they focused their scrutiny on Timothy Dwight, Christian minister and president of Yale from 1795 to 1817, charging him with supporting American slavery and owning slaves. But they also saved some fire for other pro-slavers lurking in the dark recesses of Yale's past, among them the men after whom nine of Yale's twelve residential colleges are named.
The report, and the biased coverage of it in the New York Times, set Yale atwitter. Dwight Hall, a breeding-ground of socialist/leftist "social justice" groups named after Timothy Dwight, considered changing its name. Reparations activists, local and national, cheered gleefully. University officials made a lame attempt to defend the school.
But since the initial bombshell, facts have emerged showing the graduate students' scholarship to be shoddy and biased, and calling their motives into question. Most recently, The Yale Standard, a campus Christian publication, has published a vindication of Timothy Dwight and other Yale worthies tarred by Dugdale and his cohorts. It has also come to light that the report was part of a public-relations war against Yale waged by GESO, the shrill and coercive graduate-student union that is the bugbear of the Yale administration. All three of the authors of the report are actively involved in GESO, and Dugdale acknowledged working on the report during his paid time for Locals 34 and 35 (the union groups that have joined GESO's fight to organize graduate students). In the Yale Daily News, the moderately liberal student paper, Yale president Richard Levin linked the report to upcoming union negotiations, saying, "This report and other interventions in city politics are . . . often part of the environment created prior to negotiations."
The vindication of Yale and Timothy Dwight in The Yale Standard does not concern itself with union negotiations or the details of this hidden agenda. The author, Marena Fisher, wants to set the record straight and expose the "patently slipshod scholarship" of Dugdale et al. This "counter-report" is meticulously documented and may become an important weapon in the university's public-relations arsenal when it becomes the next national institution targeted for shakedown by reparationists. The vindication lists a few of the blatant historical inaccuracies in the report, which has a seven-year-old Timothy Dwight executing the will and selling the slaves of his grandparents, Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. Even more laughable is the graduation date given for abolitionist Leonard Bacon 1783 a full nineteen years before his birth.
The Yale Standard also debunks the more serious falsehoods contained in the report, such as that Dwight defended southern slavery, despised American blacks, and himself held slaves. Quite to the contrary, Dwight condemned slavery in the strongest terms in sermons and other writings, joined the first antislavery society in Connecticut (his signature is prominent on a copy of its 1792 constitution), mentored Lyman Beecher (father of Harriet Beecher Stowe) and many other abolitionists, and bought a black woman in order to set her free. In fact, as The Yale Standard points out, Dwight could more rightfully be used as a supporter of reparations: "It is in vain to alledge," wrote Dwight, "that our ancestors brought them hither, and not we. . . . We inherit our ample patrimony with all its incumbrances; and are bound to pay the debts of our ancestors. . . . To give them liberty, and stop here, is to entail upon them a curse."
The Yale Standard's "Special Report" also tells the stories of some of the many Yale men who were responsible for turning public opinion against slavery and abolishing the "peculiar institution" in America. One of them, Manasseh Cutler, is credited with influencing Congress to include an article in the Northwest Ordinance (1787) that outlawed the transportation of slaves into the Northwest Territory.
The counter-report comes just in time for Yale. New Haven activists are spoiling for a fight over reparations for slavery. Their demands are wide-ranging and absurd, among them: 1) that Yale rename those nine colleges; 2) that it set up a fund to provide grants to black-owned non-profits, and no-interest loans to for-profit businesses owned by blacks; and 3) that Yale change the titles of the heads of the residential colleges, who are called masters. (This last is typical of the ignorance of reparationists; the word "master," of course, is taken from the British universities on which the residential-college system is based and has no relation to slave-owners.)
It is only a matter of time before reparations enthusiasts bring a suit against Yale, as they already have against Aetna, FleetBoston, and CSX. While the legal grounds for such suits are scant, these battles are also waged in the court of public opinion. The Yale Standard counter-report will be invaluable to Yale in this arena and, just as important, it exposes the willful distortion of history that is all too prevalent in the reparations camp.
Sarah Maserati is an NR associate editor.