Letters to the Editor

Letters: March/April 2022

Readers write back about Yale's history with slavery, career pivots, and more.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be emailed to yam@yale.edu or mailed to Letters Editor, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing. Priority is given to letters of fewer than 300 words.

Yale and Slavery

I was very struck (if that’s the right word) by the series “A Reckoning With Our Past” in your January/February issue. When I was a freshman, I took classes in Connecticut Hall without any notion of the role of enslaved persons in its construction, and I’ve recently become aware of the role of slaves in many seventeenth- and eighteenth-century public projects, including the White House.

Now I can’t look at these buildings without being reminded of what we owe to generations of slave labor.

Nevertheless, I’ve spent much of my life regarding slavery as a regrettable, tragic historical artifact, but one that didn’t personally affect me or my 11 generations of Yankee ancestors, all farmers and tradesmen. Surely none of them, who lived their entire lives in New England, could have been directly involved in exploiting slave labor.

Or so I thought. Some years ago, a friend who is a colonial history buff brought me a facsimile copy of a colonial-era newspaper which featured an “escaped slave” notice. The fugitive was described not by his name, but by his mutilations: a nick taken out of an ear, and a missing finger joint. The slave owner posting the notice was my fifth great-grandfather James Banks, who lived in the Greenwich/Banksville area of Connecticut in the 1700s.

So much for smug assumptions. Thanks for bringing the series to our attention.
Chuck Banks ’59
Carlisle, PA

I found your January/February issue utterly and totally engrossing—most especially the lengthy discussion of slavery and Yale. This is certainly a subject that was very much in need of attention and recognition. Even in my Class of 1952, there were only four initial members who were African American, out of a total of 1,178 enrollees. I am most grateful to you for always putting together such a wonderful publication.
Alan Stamm ’52
Los Angeles, CA

Congratulations to all involved with the sobering contributions examining Yale’s historical ties with slavery.  It brought to mind the words of Yale’s great colonial American historian, Edmund S. Morgan, who, in his landmark book American Slavery, American Freedom, observed: “Aristocrats could more safely preach equality in a slave society than in a free one. Slaves did not become leveling mobs, because their owners would see to it that they had no chance to. The apostrophes to equality were not addressed to them.”
Martin Flaherty ’87MPhil
Princeton, NJ

Given the cover story of your January/February issue is headlined, in part, “Who Mixed the Mortar? Who Carried the Bricks?,” credit should have been given to Bertolt Brecht, whose poem “A Worker Reads History” carries the same message and uses virtually the same words. The poem starts with the line, “Who built the seven gates of Thebes?” It goes on, “The books are filled with names of kings/Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?” The refrain continues, always in the form of a question, then an answer.

Moreover, the point is precisely the same as that made repeatedly in the articles. That is, for what has been accomplished, history has credited people with power; for what has been accomplished, history has denied credit to those without.
Barbara Kellerman ’75PhD
Westport, CT

Thank you for calling our attention to Brecht’s poem. We were not familiar with it when we wrote those cover lines.—Eds.
Purely out of curiosity with no political position intended, would the author and/or editor(s) of the essay about New Haven’s Black College proposal in the article on Yale’s historical ties to slavery please explain the difference in capitalization applied to the colors used to identify the races?  I simply don’t understand the point.
Ken McGuire ’74
Palm Bay, FL

We began capitalizing “Black”—but not “white”—in 2020, following the lead of several news organizations, including the Associated Press and the New York Times. There is disagreement about the best approach to this question, but the common reason cited for capitalizing “Black” is that it indicates a shared identity and culture, particularly in the US. The Times and the AP both cite the capitalization of “white” by white supremacists and hate groups as a reason they avoid it.—Eds.

Changing careers

I found Debra Spark’s article (“Career Pivots,” January/February) relatable. In 2008, when I interviewed classmate Sarah J. Crews ’03 for a magazine article about the benefits of working with a life coach, I had no idea that I would become one. My entire focus was on writing and raising my child.

Over the years, my career took so many twists, turns, and surprising expansions, I never could have planned it. I followed opportunities to write for trade magazines, design and plan websites, and become a graphic designer. None of this seemed related to my long-held goal to become a yoga teacher, which I achieved in 2013. I never planned to write novels until I found myself compelled to write one. Now, having published four books (with another due out later this year), I am earning an MFA in writing popular fiction with a focus on the romance novel. In my early 20s, I may have had some vague notion of painting, but when I finally took a few lessons two decades later, it never occurred to me I would sell my work. Yet, my paintings are in private collections in the US and England.

These disparate paths converged into my biggest career transition yet. In 2020, I took the leap into creativity coaching. This work draws on all the skills I’ve built over two-plus decades. I pull from my experience as a career creative and yoga instructor to help others transform aspects of their lives by developing their creative mindset and skills. While some of my clients strive to boost their creative output as artists, writers, or musicians, others are making career pivots and launching new businesses. I can honestly say: outside of my own creative practice, helping others to enhance their creativity is the most satisfying work I have ever engaged in.
Rebekah L. Fraser ’03
New Haven, CT

In an issue focused on redressing enslavement and racism at Yale, your article on career pivots pegs a Yale student and Rhodes Scholarship finalist, whose grandmother and primary caregiver made $60 a day cleaning houses, as “an innocent” for not knowing what an investment banker was. I look forward to profiles of alumni from wealthy families who you deem “innocents” for not knowing the first thing about living under constant financial duress.
William L. Driscoll ’80
Arlington, VA

Conan Doyle at Yale

I love getting the Yale Alumni Magazine, but “The Man Who Believed Too Much” (January/February), your article about Arthur Conan Doyle’s visit to Yale, was the first article I’ve read in full in many months, I’m a little embarrassed to say. So glad I did!
Susan Taubenkibel ’96
Washington, DC

Thompson's legacy

The passing of Robert Farris Thompson in September 2021 at the age of 88 was personally devastating (“A Life Transformed by Mambo,” January/February). Thompson was not only a mentor and teacher to me and countless others; he ventured where few would dare to go. West and Central Africa, as well as the Caribbean, were his stomping grounds. His charisma extended far beyond Yale, including greater New Haven, but accompanied him throughout my aspects of the diaspora. He profoundly changed all whom he met throughout the world. Our brotherhood was very personal—I frequently babysat and undertook diverse tasks for him.

His aesthetic of the “cool” and classroom use of percussive African rhythms, while feverishly sweating and chanting, will never be forgotten. I believe he was almost possessed. He was a great, well-published scholar and took many a student under his wing. He came to do field work in West Africa twice, visiting me in Cameroon. Due to my prior field work, we were initiated into three secret societies. We were greatly assisted by his contagious friendship, which overcame normally skeptical outsiders, much less foreign and white. He was unique in so many ways—his legacy is remarkable. We will all miss this dynamo.
Charles D. Miller III ’74
St. James, NY

Yale's role in New Haven

“Yale loves New Haven,” President Salovey declares in touting an increase of $52 million over six years in Yale’s contribution to its host city (“University Will Pay More to New Haven,” January/February). In the context of an endowment of $42 billion and the University’s exemption from taxation, one may ask whether Yale’s pride at this announcement is entirely justified.

New Haven is a struggling city with a poverty rate exceeding 26 percent. Over 50 percent of New Haven’s population consists of racial minorities who, as is so often the case, disproportionately suffer the harmful effects of the city’s challenges.
Meanwhile, Yale spends lavishly on programs addressing issues of racial justice, equity, and diversity among the largely white and otherwise privileged student body. The university has engaged a diversity consultant whose recommendations led to the creation of a new associate vice president position and the hiring of diversity specialists to teach the Yale community about a “culture of belonging.” A vast diversity bureaucracy has blossomed all across the campus. It is difficult to divine the cost of these endeavors, but it surely runs to many millions of dollars.

Yale might consider other more bold, concrete steps instead—measures that could do far more to promote racial equity by increasing opportunities for people in its home city. For example, why not use a portion of the university’s multi-billion-dollar endowment—or divert some of the monumental resources the university spends talking about issues of diversity and inclusion on its campus—to meet the desires of New Haven’s underserved minority communities for enriched daycare programs or charter schools, or even genuine collaboration more broadly with a low-income community to assure that the factors that too often impede the educational trajectories of children are addressed, with significant resources, early and head-on?

This kind of more visionary thinking and decisive action, more than the creation of additional layers of equity and inclusion bureaucracy on the campus or a modest increase in Yale’s annual financial contribution to the city, could accomplish real good, and would more persuasively demonstrate that Yale loves New Haven.
Kenneth A. Margolis ’77
Chappaqua, NY

More on the Stones and Toad's

Your article about the Rolling Stones in New Haven (“The Night the Stones Played Toad’s,” November/December) reminded me of when I attended a concert they gave in New Haven on November 4, 1965, when I was a freshman. (I was initially enrolled in the Class of 1969.) I tried to interest my roommates and new friends, but I ended up going alone. The ticket cost $2.50, I believe, or maybe $3.50—in any case less than five dollars. The concert was in New Haven Arena, normally used for ice hockey, but convertible into a concert venue. At the time, the Rolling Stones had a new song that was getting quite a bit of air play, and they played it at the concert. The name of the song was “Satisfaction.”
Stephen Whitney ’73
Kensington, CA

You left out Todd Rundgren in your list of artists who have played Toad’s Place. I saw him there in December 1985. Another swell show around the same time starred Adrian Belew, then the front man for my all-time favorite band, King Crimson (who recently released a live recording from their November 2003 date at Toad’s).

My resounding Toad’s memory was watching a buddy ousted onto York Street for booting on the dance floor. Evidently to blame was a green cup from that joint next door. Toad and Mory might be apt names for Yale twins. As David Essex (who did not play Toad’s) would advise, Rock on!
Jeff Cooper ’86
Pittsburgh, PA

Comparing losses

I am surprised that a Yale alumnus—a lawyer at that—would write, and you print, a letter repeating the false equivalency between reactions to the presidential elections of 2016 and 2020 by the voters who supported the losers (Letters, January/February). Walter Weber ’84JD makes some valid points about the admittedly and openly liberal bias of many in higher education. But in citing a speaker who said “we’ve just had an election where part of the side that lost did not accept it,” he writes, “Has he no familiarity with Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump and the public and persistent refusal to accept that outcome?”

Post-election periods often include disappointment and some poor-loser behavior. Yes, many of us thought the Clinton-Trump election was stolen—not by fraud but by the electoral college system. Yes, some of us claimed Trump was “not my president,” but that was a moral cry of dismay and disgust toward a man whose character and shady business practices were all too well known, not a cry to overturn an election. Yes, there were huge demonstrations in January 2017 (note: after the inauguration), which were inconvenient in places (in Vermont, I–89 had to be shut down for a while) but peaceful.

The radically new refusal of a former president to concede defeat in an election that even officials of his own party declared void of significant fraud; the pressure of that loser and the violence in the nation’s capital that attempted to stop the certification process; the ongoing belief of a huge portion of the party that the election was fraudulent (again, despite the declarations of election officials of that party) breaks any kind of recent precedent.

Without some basic correct facts, Mr. Weber’s plea for diversity doesn’t speak well of his affiliation to Yale or to his profession.
Ann Larson ’74
Essex, VT


In our article on Yale and slavery (“A Reckoning With Our Past,” January/February), we included the wrong date for a map of New Haven that illustrated the article. It is from 1748, not 1848. In the same article, we got the title wrong for the painting by Titus Kaphar ’06MFA. It is Enough About You, not But Enough About You.

In our obituary for Robert Farris Thompson ’55, ’65PhD (“A Life Transformed by Mambo,” January/February), we identified Frederick John Lamp ’82PhD as curator of African art at the Yale University Art Gallery. He is retired from that position.

In an article about the resignation of Beverly Gage (“Grand Strategy Director Resigns Over Donor Involvement,” January/February), we referred to a November 2020 New York Times essay that was critical of “President-elect Donald Trump.” Trump was in fact president at the time.

In an advertisement in our January/February issue honoring alumni award winners, the Yale Alumni Association left off part of the degree information for award winner M. Kemal Ciliz ’95MA.

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