Corey Menafee had enough. He couldn’t look at that image one more time.
Menafee, 38, who is black, worked as a dishwasher in a dining hall at Yale University where a stained glass panel depicted slaves carrying bales of cotton.
The residential college where he worked is named after John C. Calhoun, slaveholder, slavery advocate and former U.S. vice president.
On June 13, while helping to clean the hall, Menafee took a broom and smacked the glass panel twice, knocking it to the ground and breaking it into pieces.
“I took a broomstick, and it was kind of high, and I climbed up and reached up and broke it,” he told the New Haven Independent, adding that he was tired of looking at the “racist, very degrading” image.
“It’s 2016, I shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that. I just said: ‘That thing’s coming down today. I’m tired of it. I put myself in a position to do it, and did it.”
His boss saw him do it, and New Haven police arrived on the scene, taking him away in handcuffs, according to media reports.
Menafee told the Independent that his actions didn’t have anything to do with ongoing controversy on campus surrounding Calhoun College.
According to Slate, students last summer drew up a petition asking Yale to change the building’s name and also demanded that historical paintings and other images depicting slavery be removed from the common room.
Yale administrators refused, announcing in April that to remove Calhoun’s name “obscures the legacy of slavery rather than addressing it.”
They changed their tune somewhat last week, announcing that a set of stained glass panels depicting moments from Calhoun’s life would be removed from the college common room. They did not say whether the panel Menafee broke influenced their decision.
“I lived in Calhoun College as a student, and I remember the stained glass panel that Menafee cracked,” Katy Waldman wrote for Slate.
“It was gross. It embarrassed us and disgraced the college. I would guess that many members of the Yale community appreciate Menafee’s precise surgical excision of a malignant image that once glowed balefully down upon their heads as they tried to enjoy the dining hall’s famous tofu apple crisp.
“Obviously people should not go around vandalizing university property, but they should also not have to confront valorizations of human bondage and racist oppression every day when they go into work.”
Menafee, a native of New Haven, is the father of two children and a graduate of Virginia Union University, where he received a degree in mass communications, the Independent reported. He reportedly had worked at Yale for nine years.
He told the Independent that he regrets breaking the window.
“It could be termed as civil disobedience,” he said. “But there’s always better ways of doing things like that than just destroying things. It wasn’t my property, and I had no right to do it.”
Yale officials issued a statement saying that Menafee apologized and resigned from his job. They said that glass from the window that Menafee broke fell on a woman on the street below, “endangering her safety.”
“The University will not advocate that the employee be prosecuted in connection with this incident and is not seeking restitution,” the statement said.
Menafee faces a second-degree misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment and a first-degree felony charge of criminal mischief, according to the Independent.
Local social justice activists plan to demonstrate in New Haven on Menafee’s behalf on Tuesday.
“Yale: Put Corey Menafee back to work. Give him a hearing. Listen to him. Change the oppressive environment in which he works. Change the name of Calhoun College,” a statement from Unidad Latina en Accion said.
“What is more valuable to Yale: a stained glassed window of enslaved people picking cotton, or the humanity of the African-American people who work at Yale?”
The Yale Daily News reports that the broken pane has been replaced with clear glass.