Their Day in the Yard petitioning Harvard to award posthumous degrees.
Harvard University student group Their Day in the Yard is petitioning the institution to award posthumous degrees to seven students who were gay—or perceived to be—and persecuted and expelled in the 1920s by a “Secret Court” because of their sexual orientation.
Donald Clark, Eugene Cummings, Kenneth Day, Stanley Gilkey, Joseph Lumbard, Ernest Weeks Roberts, Edward Say, Keith Smerage, and Nathtaniel Wolff were all forced to leave not only Harvard, but the town of Cambridge, after being targeted by the Secret Court in 1920. Gilkey and Lumbard were allowed to return and complete their education, but the remaining seven were not. Cummings took his own life at age 23 after being interrogated by the Court—three weeks shy of his graduation.
Student group Their Day in the Yard was founded in June 2010 with the express purpose of achieving recognition for the students targeted and expelled by the Secret Court.
Court notes detailing interrogations have inspired books, stage works, and a film—not to mention plenty of controversy. A 2002 issue of the Harvard Crimson’s weekend magazine described the Court’s interrogations and raised questions about the university’s response.
"These reports of events long ago are extremely disturbing. They are part of a past that we have rightly left behind," Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers wrote in response to the Harvard Crimson's questions about the case. "I want to express our deep regret for the way this situation was handled, as well as the anguish the students and their families must have experienced eight decades ago."
The five-man Court was so secretive that even the administrative board wasn’t immediately aware of the interrogations and expulsions.
“[T]he University should offer a more full apology by granting posthumous honorary diplomas to the students who were not allowed to complete earning their Harvard degrees,” the Crimson wrote in 2002, calling the Court’s actions a “witch-hunt.”
“In many cases, these students could not complete their schooling elsewhere because of the University’s blacklist.”
In response to the 2002 media attention, conservative pundit Pat Buchanan joined in, lauding the Secret Court for its actions.
“Harvard appears to have quietly expelled a few deviates while avoiding a public scandal that would have ruined their reputations and damaged Harvard’s good name. What did Harvard do wrong?” Buchanan wrote.
A Feb. 29 on-campus demonstration is scheduled to draw attention to Their Day in the Yard and the group’s petition.