NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Members of more than a dozen activist groups gathered for a rally on the New Haven Green Friday to protest Yale University, and the fact that one of its colleges is named after a supporter of slavery.
John C. Calhoun was an important figure in 19th century America. That’s why Yale named a college after him in the 20th century, but his words and actions seem very wrong here in the 21st century.
Chants of “change the name” could be heard on the New Haven Green right across from Calhoun College Friday afternoon. Protests have been going on for the last couple of years, but came to a head this summer, when an African American man working in the Calhoun College dining hall had enough of looking at a stained glass window depicting slaves carrying cotton and broke it with a broom stick.
Corey Menafee was charged with a crime and resigned, but then there were protests, and Yale got the state to drop the charges and re-hired Menafee.
In response to all of the protests, Yale’s President created something called The Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming. It’s a group that is supposed to come up with a process for determining whether to change the name.
“I think the committee seems to exist as a way to delay the inevitable,” says Kica Matos, Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change.
Matos organized the group of activists who marched to the office of Yale University president Peter Salovey with a letter in hand. His assistant accepted the letter saying Salovey was in a meeting.
“Residents of the city don’t want it,” says Matos. “Students don’t want it. Faculty don’t want it. Change the name.”
The university issued a statement on Thursday in anticipation of the rally. It says “We appreciate and respect the views of University and New Haven community members on all issues.”
Barbara Tinney, executive director of the New Haven Family Alliance read to us an excerpt from Calhoun’s 1837 speech to the senate.
“‘It’ talking about African slaves came amongst us in a low degraded and savage condition…” reads Tinney.
The speech goes on to indicate the institution of slavery made the Africans more civilized. Calhoun has called slavery “a positive good.”
“You can not defend retaining the name of the college, memorializing the name, memorializing the man, and not memorializing what he believed and that is totally unacceptable and offensive as an African-American woman descendant of African slaves,” says Tinnney.
She said she came to the rally because she has a 17 year old grandson and she wanted to show him that if you believe in something you should stand up for it.”