Category Archive 'Randall Lee Gibson'

20 Oct 2020

Affirmative Portraiture

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Asher Liftin ’21 admiring the new portrait of Edward Bouchet, Y’ 1874.

If you were born white, in order to have your portrait painted and hung in one of Yale’s residential colleges, you would need to have been an exceptionally important and renowned scholar who had made major contributions to his field.

If you were African-American, the standard is just a little easier. All you have to have done is be supposedly the first representative of your identity group to attend Yale.

Yale News piously propagandizes:

[A] committee established by Head of [Saybrook] College Thomas Near … recommended commissioning Bouchet’s portrait. Near, the students, and some of their fellow residents in Saybrook College had been having conversations about how to more fully represent Yale’s history in the dining hall.

“In the very Gothic space, we have a collection of portraits that were loaned from the Yale University Art Gallery in 1933 when the college opened,” said Near. “We also have a set of what I call ‘family portraits’ — those who served Saybrook as the heads and deans of the college and their spouses. All of the people pictured are white, which is not representative of Yale’s true history.”

The addition of the Bouchet portrait is just the start of bringing “the narratives of people who have for too long been ignored, overlooked, and marginalized, to come to the surface” to campus spaces, Near said at the unveiling. “In North America there is no history that is not Black history, and this is absolutely true for the history of Yale.”

Edward Bouchet is very probably the only Yale alumnus with merely a pedestrian career as a high school teacher to be so honored.

Unfortunately, on top of everything else, the powers that be at Yale, and at Saybrook College, are just plain wrong. Edward Bouchet, Class of 1874, was not the first student of color to graduate from Yale. That distinction belongs to Confederate Brigadier General, later Congressman and Senator from Louisiana, Randall Lee Gibson, valedictorian of the Yale Class of 1853.

17 May 2011

Yale’s First African American Graduate

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Randall Lee Gibson (above) was valedictorian of the Yale Class of 1853. He had been born a member of the planter aristocracy of Kentucky and Louisiana. He was a keen secessionist and fought for the Confederacy, serving first as an artillery captain then as colonel of the 13th Louisiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

Nonetheless, Randall Gibson, Class of 1853, deserves to be counted as Yale’s first African-American graduate rather than Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed, MD 1857, or Edward Alexander Bouchet, Class of 1874.

Randall Gibson was the descendant on one Gideon Gibson, who arrived in the Colony of South Carolina in 1730 and who was “a skilled tradesman, had a white wife and … owned land and slaves in Virginia and North Carolina.” Gideon Gibson obtained land grants from the governor of South Carolina and he and his descendants married into the white planter class on the Western frontier. By the 1790s, the Gibson family had forgotten its African origin and ascribed a family tendency toward a dark complexion to Gypsy or Portuguese descent.

New York Times article.

Randall Gibson fought at Shiloh. His regiment saw action with the Army of Tennessee at Chicamauga. Gibson ultimately made it all the way to the rank of Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. He fought in the Atlanta Campaign and ended the war defending the city of Mobile.

After the war and Reconstruction, Gibson was elected to Congress as a democrat from 1875 to 1883 and served as senator from 1883 to until his death in 1892. He was a trustee of Tulane and a hall at Tulane University is named for him.

Reading all this moved the Atlantic’s race blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates to observe:

Race is such bullshit.


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