For many years, the distinction of being Yale University’s first Black student went to Edward Bouchet, an 1874 graduate. His portrait hung in the Yale library for over a century and the university named several fellowships and symposiums after him.
Bouchet was also the first African-American to earn a PhD (at Yale in 1876) and only the sixth American of any color to earn the advanced degree in Physics.
But this year, an archivist preparing antique papers for auction was surprised to find previously undiscovered records that indicated Richard Henry Green was actually Yale’s first Black student, graduating in 1857. Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed, another African-American student, also graduated from Yale School of Medicine that year.
Yale was in for another surprise when they realized Moses Simons might actually be Yale’s very first Black graduate. Simons graduated from Yale in 1809, going on to law school and becoming a lawyer.
His race went previously unrecorded because he had already been named Yale’s first Jewish graduate. But in 1817, after a racially motivated insult, he was tried for assault and battery and referred to as a “Black lawyer.”
While research has concluded that each one of the students could hold the pioneering title, another name has arisen as a possibility – Randall Lee Gibson, class of 1853. Ancestry research revealed that Gibson’s grandfather was a man of color, though Gibson never acknowledged it. He became a general in the Confederate Army.