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Overview  |  18th Century  |  19th Century  |  20th Century  |  Credits

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John Blassingame and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
The more democratic Yale also opened its doors to a group of southerners that were merging into the American mainstream: African-Americans. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, African-Americans were admitted in sizable numbers for the first time. During these first few years, John Blassingame (GRD '71) and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (CC '73) (left) came to Yale as students. Blassingame, a history professor at Yale, and Gates, the W.E.B. Dubois Professor of Humanities and Chairman of the African-American studies department at Harvard, are now two of the preeminent scholars of African-American life, past and present. Both came from the rural South to New Haven and Yale during the years of the last years of the Civil Rights movement, the Bobby Seale trial, and the Black Panthers . The incongruity of a rural southern African-American at a wealthy, elite university in an urban setting created unique tensions and new ways of understanding the South and the relationship of African-Americans to the South.

Professor Edward Ayers (GRD '79), Hugh P. Kelly Professor of History at the University of Virginia, said, "Yale, in short, made me see the South through eyes other than my own. In a very real sense, it gave me the South." Now one of the foremost scholars of the American South, Ayers came to Yale with no overwhelming interest in the region of his birth but left with a new vision.

Yale's urban New England environment gave many southerners the opportunity to begin the process of understanding the South. They defined the South for themselves but also for the others around them. Exploring the lives of nearly three centuries of southern Yalies, the stereotypes of both the South and New England dissolve. In their place, new ways of seeing emerge attesting to the many Souths that exist within the past and the present.

Overview reprinted Courtesy of The New Journal