firing dr. yergan

Dr. Max Yergan, the first black faculty member ever hired at any of NYC’s public colleges, teaches “Negro History and Culture” at CCNY, in the fall of 1937. It is the first time this course is offered within the city colleges. During the Rapp-Coudert hearings, informers report that his class was “liberal and progressive.” Yergan is denied re-appointment.

“The proposal to dismiss Dr. Max Yergan from his position as Lecturer in Negro History at City College involves much more than the simple issue of teacher tenure. It symbolizes the current neo-fascist attacks upon free education in general. It bespeaks the increasing acute persecution of the Negro people. It highlights the Jim Crow teacher-employment policies and the neglect of studies about the Negro in most institutions of higher education.”

-- Prof. Doxey Wilkerson, Howard University, New York Teacher, June 1941

"The purpose of scholarship in this course in Negro History is to disclose the culture of the Negro people and its place in world culture; to study those forces which account for the present status of the Negro population in America: to expose and correct the misrepresentation of the past of the Negro population in America; and to discuss how Negroes may continue their contributions to cultural progress and the strengthening of democracy in America.”

--Dr. Max Yergan, press statement, May 16, 1941 (private coll.)

Max Yeargan photograph Dr. Max Yergan speaks at the “Artists Front to Win the War” at Carnegie Hall, October 16, 1942.

Negro Congress, 1941 Dr. Max Yergan serves as president of the National Negro Congress, a coalition of hundreds of African-American organizations created in 1935 by religious, labor, civic and fraternal leaders to fight racial discrimination, establish relations with black organizations throughout the world, and oppose the deportation of black immigrants.

douglass society Established in 1921 by ten black students, the Frederick Douglass Society becomes one of the most active clubs on campus. It campaigns for many years for a black history course. With the support of the College Teachers Union and the American Student Union, society members are successful in bringing in Dr. Yergan to teach this class in the fall of 1937.

Hugo Geller This figure of Dr. Max Yergan is framed on one side by a hangman’s noose, and a hooded Ku Klux Klan figure is on his right behind CCNY. The artist equates the Rapp-Coudert Committee investigations with extreme right-wing racists in America who were responsible for lynching African Americans in the South.