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Exhibit highlights slavery and resistance in Yale and New Haven

Ernest Oppong Obobisa for Beinecke Library

Shining Light on Truth: New Haven, Yale, and Slavery opened its doors to the public late last week, showcasing what Michael Morand and Charles Warner, Jr. have curated through accessing mountains of archival material on Black history in New Haven and throughout Yale University.

Michael Morand
Beinecke Library, Yale University Library
Ernest Oppong Obobisa, a regular visitor to New Haven and Yale who lives in Accra, Ghana, at the New Haven Museum.

The exhibit complements a new book published the same day, Yale and Slavery: A History, by David W. Blight. Both the book and the exhibit explore how slavery — and resistance to it — have shaped both Yale University and the histories of Black residents of New Haven.

Morand, one of the exhibit’s curators and the director of community engagement for the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale, said the process of choosing among a vast landscape of archival material was made easier by having a specific focus for the exhibit: accountability.

“This exhibition seeks to literally bring the receipts. So much of the documentary evidence on view, in high quality, are receipts — including the account book for the construction of Connecticut Hall, the oldest building on the Yale campus and first brick building in Connecticut,” he said. “Without free and enslaved Black labor, Yale, New Haven and Connecticut would not have been built, and would not have been what they are.”

The exhibit underscores how Black history in Yale and New Haven overlap. According to Morand, that connection begins in the exhibit’s host location, which is at the New Haven Museum rather than a space at Yale.

“We want it to be in a community space. So it's as accessible as possible, and to underscore that this is a shared history. It is at once a Connecticut story, a New Haven story and a Yale story. Having it in the New Haven Museum gives a platform to underscore that our history and our future are shared.”

Michael Morand
Beinecke Library, Yale University Library
Ernest Oppong Obobisa, a regular visitor to New Haven and Yale who lives in Accra, Ghana, at the New Haven Museum.

Joanna Steinberg, who leads learning and engagement at the New Haven Museum, further highlighted the importance of the exhibit’s placement within the New Haven community.

“I'm just excited about the broad reach of this exhibit… This is a larger story than Yale,” she said. “New Haven and Yale are intertwined in this way. And there's intention in bringing the story to the New Haven Museum and contextualizing it as part of the city's history.”

The exhibit features a gallery made to evoke a library that would have been a part of one of the first historically Black colleges in the nation, which was proposed to be in New Haven in 1831. The proposal was blocked by New Haven property owners, but Morand, Warner and exhibit designer David Jon Walker brought one piece of the college to life.

Steinberg said that the room buzzed on the exhibit’s first day.

“There's [a] button with the seal of what would have been. And I've been seeing people wear it around town as well,” she said. “So there's just a lot of excitement, and I think people are all beginning to really know this story very well.”

The exhibit will be available to the public through Aug. 2024. Admission to Shining Light on Truth: New Haven, Yale, and Slavery is free to all visitors.

A full statement on the Yale and Slavery Research Project provided by Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, can be found here.

Eda Uzunlar (she/her) is a reporter for WSHU.

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