Yale Students May Rename College After Revered Arkansan

Jan 31, 2016

Roosevelt "Rosey" Thompson.
Credit Encyclopedia for Arkansas History and Culture

There are some serious discussions at Yale University about renaming a residential college after Roosevelt “Rosey” Thompson, a Little Rock native, former Central High School student body president and aide to then-Governor Bill Clinton. Thompson died tragically in an automobile accident in 1984 at the age of 22. The Washington Post reports.

Student deliberations revolve around renaming the university's Calhoun College. The college's moniker comes from the infamous slaveholding US Senator from South Carolina and 1804 graduate of Yale, John C. Calhoun. The Post notes that Calhoun once provided “much of the intellectual foundation for the Confederacy.”

John C. Calhoun

Other contenders to replace Calhoun’s eponymous hold on the site are former slave, abolitionist and 19th century civil rights advocate Frederick Douglas, as well as 20th Century songsmith Cole Porter.

The Post remarks that Thompson—a resident at Calhoun as a Yale student in the early 80’s—bore a reputation among peers as a bright, tireless worker who was always civically engaged:

“Though Thompson did not trumpet his own ambitions, former friends and classmates said, many assumed he would eventually be elected the first black governor of Arkansas and ultimately ascend to federal office, perhaps even to the presidency of the United States.

Thompson played offensive lineman on the Yale football team and headed the Calhoun College student council.

It was at a meeting of the council that Thompson celebrated his final birthday, a fellow senior at the time, Larry Lawrence, said, recalling sharing a cake in the shape of the state of Arkansas with his former classmate in the living room of the Calhoun master’s house. Thompson would have been 54 on Thursday, an occasion not lost on students organizing to see his name replace Calhoun’s; they toasted him in the college on Thursday night.

By all accounts, Thompson was a model student, elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year and the recipient of Yale’s Hart Lyman Prize, awarded to a junior for character and achievement. His service spanned Yale and New Haven. He was a freshman counselor, helping new students become acclimated to campus, and also worked at New Haven City Hall and tutored in the public schools. Thompson won a Rhodes Scholarship for study at Oxford University in the fall of his senior year.”

The Post also mentions the high regard Arkansas’s well-known political power couple had for Thompson:

“Former president Bill Clinton, for whom Thompson had interned in the governor’s office in Little Rock, is said to have cried at his funeral.

In a documentary titled “Looking for Rosey,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, currently a Democratic candidate for president, said Thompson was “truly one of the most remarkable human beings I have ever, ever known."

You can  read more coverage of the push to rename Calhoun College in honor of Thompson in the Yale Daily News. An op-ed was also penned advocating for the name-change.

Here’s a report on Thompson’s death from CBS’ Sunday Morning program from 1984. It includes a clip of Bill Clinton’s eulogy:

And finally, to round out this post on Thompson (who would have turned 54 this year), here is a recording from a Butler Center for Arkansas Studies “Legacies and Lunch” event held last summer on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of his graduation from Central High. The panel includes Elaine Dumas, his former teacher, Beth Felton, former classmate at Central and staffer at the Central Arkansas Library System’s Roosevelt Thompson Library and his brother Lee Thompson.