Southern Seminary And Racism

Southern Seminary And Racism December 12, 2018

From Southern Seminary:

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

The history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is intertwined with the history of American slavery and the commitment to white supremacy which supported it. Slavery left its mark on the seminary just as it did upon the American nation as a whole. The denomination that established it spoke distinctly in support of the morality of slaveholding and the justness of the Confederate effort to preserve it. The seminary’s donors and trustees advanced the interests of slavery from positions of leadership in society and in the church. The seminary’s leaders held to the contradictory commitments enshrined in the nation’s foundational commitments. In 1776 Americans declared that all men were created equal and were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. In the United States Constitution, however, Americans effectively consigned black slaves to inequality as non-persons whose inalienable rights to life and liberty were indeed alienated. The contradiction went far deeper. As Christians, the seminary’s leaders regarded blacks as equal in human nature and dignity because God created all humanity from one person. They therefore labored to save the eternal souls of blacks no less than of whites. They urged them to repent of their sins and entrust themselves to God’s mercy through faith in Jesus Christ, who suffered for the sins of blacks and whites alike, and rose again from the dead to give eternal life to all who believed in him, to both blacks and whites, in order to make them one body. They contradicted these commitments however by asserting white superiority and defending racial inequality. The racism that was fundamental to the defense of slavery in America endured long after the end of legal slavery. The belief in white supremacy that undergirded slavery also undergirded new forms of racial oppression. The seminary’s leaders long shared that belief and therefore failed to combat effectively the injustices stemming from it.

1. The seminary’s founding faculty all held slaves. James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, Basil Manly Jr., and William Williams together owned more than fifty persons. They invested capital in slaves who could earn for their owners an annual cash return on their investment.

2. The seminary’s early faculty and trustees defended the righteousness of slaveholding. The seminary faculty supported the righteousness of slaveholding and opposed efforts to limit the institution. A number of the seminary’s prominent trustees advanced public defenses of slavery. James L. Reynolds argued that slavery was in the best interest of the slaves themselves. Joseph E. Brown argued that slavery was no mere necessary evil, but rather a God-ordained institution to be perpetuated. Despite his early opposition to slavery as a young man, Basil Manly Sr. eventually became one of its most ardent apologists. Patrick H. Mell contended that slavery was essential to civil society. Iveson L. Brookes suggested that slavery was “an institution of heaven.” All three of these shared a common theological argument in defense of slavery. They argued first that slaveholding was righteous because the inferiority of blacks indicated God’s providential will for their enslavement, corroborated by Noah’s prophetic cursing of Ham. They argued second that slaveholding was righteous because southern slaves accrued such remarkable material and spiritual benefits from it. Additionally, these voices not only defended slavery in theory, but in actual practice as well, denying that abuses, violence, assault, and rape were in any way commonplace or systemic. Instead, they thought these to be exceptions. Their perspective was undoubtedly veiled by their dependence on hired overseers who were charged with the violent enforcement of the slave system. Furthermore, in their defense of slavery, the faculty and some prominent trustees assumed black inferiority, even as they often professed concern for the welfare of slaves.

3. Upon Abraham Lincoln’s election, the seminary faculty sought to preserve slavery. They believed that Lincoln’s election threatened the extinction of slavery. Boyce believed that sudden secession would be disastrous, and that negotiation with the Republicans would produce guarantees of protection for slavery. Manly and Williams seemed to view secession as the only hope for preserving slavery. Additionally, trustees such as Benjamin Pressley had made arguments for secession as early as 1851, claiming that defending slavery was of such vital priority that southern states should be prepared to leave the Union.

4. The seminary supported the Confederacy’s cause to preserve slavery. Faculty, trustees, and students joined the effort to defend the independence of the Confederacy. Boyce served in the army at the start and at the end of the war, and served in the South Carolina legislature for the entire war. At the 1863 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Broadus drafted and presented resolutions pledging Southern Baptist support for the Confederacy. Broadus and Manly wrote and published literature calling soldiers to believe in Christ and follow him faithfully. Broadus preached the gospel among the soldiers. Students, as well as future faculty members, fought and served as chaplains. All sought God’s blessing for Confederate victory and independence.

5. After emancipation, the seminary faculty opposed racial equality. The faculty called for justice and sympathy for blacks, and supported the ministries of black churches and schools, but they defended white rule and the disfranchisement of blacks based upon the doctrine of white supremacy. Manly concluded that the presence of freed slaves in Greenville was an “incubus and plague.” If order was to be preserved in the South, the faculty concluded, white political control was essential. And when the question of relocating the seminary arose, Broadus positively assessed one potential location as desirable since it was “in a white man’s country.” While serving in the South Carolina state constitutional convention in 1865, Boyce delivered a speech arguing that “this is a white man’s government,” but would also in subsequent years advocate for passage of the fourteenth amendment and for acceptance of the terms of the Reconstruction Acts. In an 1868 speech before the northern Baptists’ Home Mission Society, Manly openly conceded, “We at the South do not recognize the social equality of the negro” and expressly condemned the idea of extending suffrage to black Americans.

6. In the Reconstruction era, the faculty supported the restoration of white rule in the South. The seminary faculty applauded restoration of white rule reflected in the election of Democrat Wade Hampton as governor of South Carolina and in the broad Democratic victories throughout the South. They supported also the legal curtailment of the civil rights of blacks that these victories promised. William Whitsitt, a lifelong admirer of Hampton, assured his students that “whites will rule in the South.”

7. Joseph E. Brown, the seminary’s most important donor and chairman of its Board of Trustees 1880-1894, earned much of his fortune by the exploitation of mostly black convict-lease laborers. Joseph E. Brown’s coal mines and iron furnaces coerced the full extent of labor from Georgia convicts by employing the same brutal punishments and tortures formerly employed by slave drivers. The legal system entrapped thousands of black men, often on trumped up charges and without any due process protections, and earned money for sheriffs and state treasuries by selling their labor. It was worse than slavery. Investigations of Brown’s Dade Coal operation concluded that “if there is a hell on earth, it is the Dade coal mines.” Brown reaped enormous profits from his coal and iron businesses. His 1880 gift of $50,000 was instrumental in saving the seminary from financial collapse. At his death, the seminary honored him for his service as a trustee and for the generous financial support he had provided.

8. The seminary faculty urged just and humane treatment for blacks. The seminary faculty taught the equal humanity of blacks and whites. They commended the authenticity of the Christian faith and piety of black believers. And they opposed the violence and injustice that blacks in the South widely suffered. Broadus repudiated American slavery in 1882. William J. McGlothlin rejected previous attempts to connect the curse of Ham to blackness or justification for slavery. Broadus chastised white Christians for assuming their worship was more acceptable to God than that offered by black Christians. Several faculty and trustees lamented the prevalence of lynching in the South.

9. Before the 1940s, the seminary faculty generally approved the Lost Cause mythology. White southern apologists rewrote southern history in order to meet the needs of the Jim Crow era. They construed the Old South as an idyllic place for both slaves and masters, claimed that the South went to war to uphold their honor rather than slavery, and blamed postwar evils on such Radical Republican policy blunders as granting the freedmen legal equality and the vote. The faculty generally commended the Lost Cause rendering of southern history. Archibald T. Robertson celebrated the writings of Thomas Dixon for their portrayal of race relations and as useful justification for the disenfranchisement of black Americans. William O. Carver expressed doubts as to black “capacity for development.” He concluded that “in the United States there is found the only large group of Negroes yet rescued from heathenism and set on the road to civilization.” Carver also delivered an overt eulogy to the Lost Cause in 1935, celebrating the virtue, honor, and heroism of those who had given their lives for the Confederacy.

10. Until the 1940s, the seminary faculty supported black education and the segregation of schools and society. They supported black theological education provided that it was racially segregated. Many faculty members taught black preachers in intensive institutes, in coordination with Simmons University, and in private instruction. They supported black theological schools. Some of the most prominent of these efforts were the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s New Era Institutes in the 1890s. President Mullins urged Southern Baptists to cooperate with the National Baptist Convention in the establishment of the American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1924. However, they also regularly refused to admit qualified black applicants to the seminary’s degree programs and generally supported racial segregation throughout society. The seminary still largely insisted on the racial hierarchy of white superiority in broader American culture. Explaining his support for Herbert Hoover’s 1928 presidential campaign, Mullins reasoned that supporting Hoover would provide better security for white rule in the South than supporting Democrat Al Smith. In defense of Jim Crow laws, professor Charles Gardner concluded they were necessary given “the absolute demonstration of the political incapacity of the negro race, viewed as a whole.”

11. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the seminary faculty appealed to science to support their belief in white superiority. The faculty believed that science had demonstrated black inferiority. They were convinced of the superiority of white civilization and that this justified racial inequality. They did so with full confidence that their views were the conclusions of empirical observation undergirded by leading scientific authorities. Writing in 1882, Broadus advanced this sort of thinking, concluding that supposed black moral inferiority was connected to biological inferiority. For his part, Mullins put the matter starkly: “It is immoral and wrong to demand that negro civilization should be placed on par with white. This is fundamentally the issue.” In his estimation, black political participation was the primary culprit in the “race problem.” Charles Gardner concluded that science had established the inferiority of blacks, appealing to pseudo-scientific studies that concluded that whites were the products of more advanced evolutionary processes: “The negro should in some way be brought to the frank recognition of his racial inferiority.”

12. The seminary admitted blacks to its degree programs in 1940 and integrated its classrooms in 1951. President John R. Sampey and the faculty were convinced that they must admit qualified applicants and began doing so in 1940. Kentucky’s “Day Law” prohibited integrated education, so for eleven years, black students received instruction off campus or in professors’ offices. Most of these met at the Baptist Fellowship Center in downtown Louisville. The seminary’s first black graduate was Garland Offutt, who earned a Th.M. in 1944 and was subsequently admitted to the seminary’s Ph.D. program. However, under legal counsel, the seminary did not permit Offutt to participate in the regular commencement exercises, but instead awarded his degree in the final chapel service of the term. President Ellis Fuller recommended and trustees enacted fully integrated programs and classrooms in 1951. In the following year, the first black students participated in regular graduation services, including B.J. Miller, Claude Taylor, and J.V. Bottoms.

13. The seminary faculty supported civil rights for blacks but had mixed appraisals of the Civil Rights Movement. While the seminary faculty generally urged compliance with the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, they largely supported a moderate approach to advance civil rights for blacks and were uncomfortable with Martin Luther King Jr.’s direct-action tactics. The seminary nevertheless invited King to deliver the Julius Brown Gay Lecture in 1961 and became increasingly supportive of the Civil Rights Movement. The seminary invited other civil rights leaders to deliver endowed lectures and appointed its first black scholar to the faculty in 1986.

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