For the first time in its 200-year history, Yale University has awarded posthumous degrees to two Black students who were denied access to formal education due to their race. Rev. James W.C. Pennington and Rev. Alexander Crummell were both awarded honorary master’s degrees by the Ivy League institution.
Pennington, who escaped slavery in Maryland in 1828, was the first known Black person to study at Yale from 1834 to 1837. Crummell followed three years later in 1840 for one year. Despite studying theology, they were not allowed to register for classes or participate in classroom discussions or access library resources.
Yale President Peter Salovey said that while they could not undo the injustices of the past, they aimed to honor their legacies and inscribe their names in the university’s official records. A commencement ceremony is scheduled for the fall. The Pennington Legacy Group, a student group advocating for Pennington’s degree, plans to continue pushing for justice.