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In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, racism and discrimination meant that few occupations were open to Black people in New Haven and elsewhere in Connecticut. Although a small number of formally educated Black men became doctors, lawyers, educators, and other professionals, the majority worked as barbers, porters, waiters, and laborers. Black women worked outside the home as well, often as cooks, laundresses, seamstresses, or household staff.
Being a custodian at Yale was a desirable job for Black men. Known as “sweeps,” probably short for chimney sweep, Yale custodians were often prominent members of New Haven’s Black community, active in church and civic affairs. Their labor was essential to Yale’s success then, just as Yale’s custodial, dining, and other staff are vital to the university today.
McGrath is Research Coordinator for Yale, New Haven, and Connecticut History at Beinecke Library. She has been the lead researcher for the Yale and Slavery Research Project, and is the author of two chapters and three interludes in the forthcoming book, “Yale and Slavery: A History,” by David W. Blight with the Yale and Slavery Research Project. McGrath earned her Ph.D. in American History from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mondays at Beinecke online talks focus on materials from the collections and include an opening presentation at 4pm followed by conversation and question and answer beginning about 4:30pm until 5pm.