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New Fellowship in Honour of the First African American to Receive an Honorary Doctorate in Europe

Press Release No. 48/2011
24 February 2011
Heidelberg University plans the “James W.C. Pennington Distinguished Fellowship”
Pennington James C Uniarchiv
James W.C. Pennington (1809 - 1870)

© University Archives Heidelberg

The American clergyman James W.C. Pennington (1809-1870) was the first African American to receive an honorary doctorate from a European university. Heidelberg University awarded the black minister this highest academic distinction in divinity in 1849. As a tribute to James Pennington, the university now plans to create a new research fellowship initiated by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) and the Faculty of Theology. The “James W.C. Pennington Distinguished Fellowship” is designed to enable doctoral students from the United States and elsewhere to spend a one-year research sojourn in Heidelberg. The university has issued a call for donations to fund the fellowship.

In the year of its 625th anniversary, Heidelberg University is commemorating with this fellowship a man whose non-violent commitment to the cause of liberty for the black population of the United States has earned him an undying place in the international peace and abolitionist movements. Born in 1809, Pennington escaped bondage at the age of eighteen. He learned to read and write and in 1834 was the first black man to attend classes at Yale University. In 1838 he was ordained a minister of the Presbyterian Church. At the 1849 World Peace Congress in Paris, Pennington was befriended by the Heidelberg scholar Friedrich Carové. Pennington so impressed Carové that in the same year he persuaded the Heidelberg Faculty of Theology to confer an honorary doctorate on the black minister.

Planned initially for a period of five years, this fellowship is designed to enable young graduates to pursue their studies in Heidelberg for one year. Their research work should be devoted to topics especially close to Pennington’s heart: slavery, emancipation, peace, education, civil rights, religion, etc. Preference will be accorded to projects focussing on American history or transatlantic relations. The ultimate aim of the call for donations is to raise a total of 125,000 euros. The endowment for the fellowship needs to reach at least 25,000 euros before the award can be officially launched.

For more information, go to the HCA website:


Dr. Mischa Honeck
Heidelberg Center for American Studies
phone: +49 6221 543878

Communications and Marketing
Press Office, phone: +49 6221 542311


For the US
Checks should be made out to Heidelberg University Association (with "Pennington Distinguished Fellowship" in the check's memo line) and mailed to
Heldelberg Unlverslty Assoclation
Pennington Distinguished Fellowship
871 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017

For Europe
Verein zur Förderung der Schurman Bibliothek e.V.
Bank („Kreditinstitut“): Baden-Württembergische Bank AG • Filiale Heidelberg
Account number („Kontonummer“): 742 1501 253
Bank sorting code („Bankleitzahl“): 600 501 00
IBAN: DE29 6005 0101 7421 5012 53

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