Light & Verity

Yale degrees, two centuries late

Honoring two Black students from the nineteenth century.

Yale University

Yale University

Alexander Crummell (left) and James W. C. Pennington. View full image

When James W. C. Pennington and Alexander Crummell studied theology at Yale in the 1830s and ’40s, they were allowed only to audit courses—because they were African American. Both went on to distinguished careers as ministers and abolitionists. And now, both have Yale degrees. In April, President Peter Salovey ’86PhD announced that the trustees had voted to confer honorary master’s degrees on the two men. “Although we cannot return to Pennington and Crummell the access and privileges they were denied when they studied at Yale,” Salovey wrote in a message to the Yale community, “we recognize their work and honor their legacies by conferring on them these MA Privatim degrees.”

Noah Humphrey ’23MDiv had a hand in it: he had started campaigning for a degree for Pennington as a divinity student in 2021. He also founded the Pennington Legacy Group at Yale. “To finish Yale by graduating alongside Pennington,” Humphrey says, “is a blessing.”

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