The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s Historically Black College Will Close

Concordia_AD-3-web-622x350I had no idea that the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod operated a historical black college in Selma until I notice Concordia College when visiting Selma last summer on a civil rights bus tour.  Here is a taste a piece on the closing from Inside Higher Ed:

Concordia College in Alabama has announced that it will end operations at the end of this academic year.

Concordia is a historically black institution, and the only such institution to be Lutheran. The announcement of the closure came from the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, which noted “great sadness” over the decision.

A statement from the synod said in part: “[S]ince July 2006, of the total subsidy (not including scholarships) given to the 10 campuses of the Concordia University System, CCA [the Alabama college] alone has received more than 44 percent of that amount. But in spite of this assistance and funds from other sources, CCA — whose own efforts to stay viable have been robust — was not able to achieve acceptable and sustainable financial performance.”

The statement added: “The synod must continually evaluate how it allocates its limited resources in the face of so many worthy mission-and-ministry opportunities both at home and abroad. This often requires the synod’s Board of Directors to make difficult decisions in following the principles of wise and faithful, Scripture-mandated stewardship.

Concordia was founded — as the Alabama Lutheran Academy — in Selma in 1922. Rosa J. Young, known as “the mother of black Lutheranism in America,” started the college.

Read the entire piece here.

Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Tour: Day 4

For previous posts in this series click here.

We began Day 4 in Montgomery, Alabama.  (Montgomery is the only city where we are spending two nights.  This means that we didn’t have to pack our suitcases this yesterday!).

In the morning we made quick stops at some of Montgomery’s most iconic historical sites. As we entered the area around the Alabama State Capitol I was struck by the juxtaposition between Confederate States of America sites and Civil Rights Movement sites.  I am sure historians and scholars have written about these juxtapositions, but when you see them for the first time they are quite striking.  (If you know of any good books or articles that deal with these commemorative juxtapositions in Montgomery please let me know in the comments section).

As our bus entered this part of the city we passed the First White House of the Confederacy, the home of Jefferson Davis during the brief period when Montgomery was the capital of the Confederacy. (The Confederate capital moved to Richmond, Virginia in August 1861).

As a series of massive Alabama government buildings (including the capitol building) came into sight I was immediately struck by their whiteness.  Seriously, these buildings are painted in a very bright white.  I don’t know if they were that white during the 1965 Voting Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, but as I surveyed the landscape I tried to imagine what it was like on Sunday, March 25, 1965 to see the color of these buildings in the background as 25,000 people–many of them African Americans– arrived at the capitol to hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “How Long, Not Long” speech.

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Office building in Alabama capitol area

 

I was also struck by the location of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the church that Martin Luther King Jr. served from 1954-1960.  It is only a few hundred yards from the Alabama State Capitol Building where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated President of the Confederate States of America and where the Constitution of the Confederate States of America was written.  Every Sunday morning King and his congregation would step out of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and into the whiteness of the built environment.  It was a material manifestation of Alabama’s historical commitment to white supremacy.

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View of the Alabama State Capitol from the steps of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

 

As you leave Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and walk up Dexter Avenue toward the Capitol Building, you will see, on the right side of the road, a monument commemorating the path of Jefferson Davis’s inauguration parade.  It was placed at this site in 1942. Directly across the street on Dexter Avenue is a monument commemorating the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march.  It looks very new.  I did my best to capture this contrast here:

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Selma to Montgomery march monument is in foreground.  Jefferson Davis inaugural parade monument is in upper right of the picture (monument with water marks behind gray car)

After our visit to the capitol area, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church parsonage, and the homes of some of the leaders of the Montgomery Improvement Association, we headed over to the Montgomery headquarters of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).  If you are familiar with Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercyyou are familiar with the work of EJI.  I have a lot to say about EJI, so I think I will save those thoughts for another post that I hope to get up later today.

We spent the afternoon in Selma.  Our guide was Joanne Bland, a civil rights activist who, as an eleven-year-old girl, marched in all three Edmund Pettus Bridge marches.  She took us to the Brown Chapel AME Church, the starting point of the March 7, 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march.  In the back of the church is an outdoor concrete slab that served as the launching point of the march.  Bland asked us to pick up a stone from the crumbling slab (she is trying to get the slab refurbished) and hold it up as a reminder of the Selma marchers.  She challenged us to show this kind of courage in our lives whenever we encounter injustice.

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Joanne  Bland tells her story

Bland showed us some historical sites in Selma, took us to a local fruit stand so she could buy some peaches, and then told us her experience during the 1965 voting rights marches.  We then made our own march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  (Our tour guide Todd Allen asked my daughter Caroline to lead us across the bridge.  It will be an experience she will never forget.  Later in the day Todd asked Caroline what she thought about playing the role of John Lewis in our march).  It was a moving end to a very moving day.

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Caroline is about to lead us across the Edmund Pettus Bridge

Tomorrow we will spend half the day in Montgomery and the other half in Birmingham. Stay tuned.  Here are a couple more pics:

 

 

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Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Parsonage

From the Archives: “Our historical narcissism indicts us”

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Wounded police officers outside the Downtown Howard Johnson Hotel in New Orleans–December 31, 1972

If you read my previous post, you know that today I watched (for about the fifth time) Barack Obama’s March 2015 speech at Selma.  There is so much I appreciate about this speech.  For example, Obama, like those who marched at Selma, connected the Civil Rights Movement to the ideals of the nation–ideals that we all share.  He also talks about the progress that has been made in civil rights over the last two centuries.

I returned to this speech after a conversation I had this morning about race in America. One of the people in the conversation said something like “racial tension is worse today than it has ever been in America.”  As the historian in the group, I said that I was not so sure about the validity of such a statement.  Race relations in America are better today than they were fifty years ago.  Obama makes this clear in his speech.  Progress can be a good thing.

And then I was reminded of a post I did back in September about Rick Perlstein’s piece at The Baffler titled “Time Bandits: Why Our Political Past is Rarely Prologue.”  I also remember quoting from this piece in a public lecture I gave a few days later at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass.

Here is my post from September 20, 2016:

Rick Perlstein, the author of several excellent (and big) books on American conservatism since the 1950s, is skeptical about the way his readers have turned to his work for historical analogies in this election cycle.

Here is a taste of his recent piece in The Baffler:

History does not repeat itself. “The country is disintegrating,” a friend of mine wrote on Facebook after the massacre of five policemen by black militant Micah Johnson in Dallas. But during most of the years I write about in Nixonland and its sequel covering 1973 through 1976, The Invisible Bridge, the Dallas shootings might have registered as little more than a ripple. On New Year’s Eve in 1972, a New Orleans television station received this message: “Africa greets you. On Dec. 31, 1972, aprx. 11 pm, the downtown New Orleans Police Department will be attacked. Reason—many, but the death of two innocent brothers will be avenged.” Its author was a twenty-three-year-old Navy veteran named Mark James Essex. (In the 1960s, the media had begun referring to killers using middle names, lest any random “James Ray” or “John Gacy” suffer unfairly from the association.) Essex shot three policemen to death, evading arrest. The story got hardly a line of national attention until the following week, when he began cutting down white people at random and held hundreds of officers at bay from a hotel rooftop. Finally, he was cornered and shot from a Marine helicopter on live TV, which also accidentally wounded nine more policemen. The New York Times only found space for that three days later.

Stories like these were routine in the 1970s. Three weeks later, four men identifying themselves as “servants of Allah” holed up in a Brooklyn sporting goods store with nine hostages. One cop died in two days of blazing gun battles before the hostages made a daring rooftop escape. The same week, Richard Nixon gave his second inaugural address, taking credit for quieting an era of “destructive conflict at home.” As usual, Nixon was lying, but this time not all that much. Incidents of Americans turning terrorist and killing other Americans had indeed ticked down a bit over the previous few years—even counting the rise of the Black Liberation Army, which specialized in ambushing police and killed five of them between 1971 and 1972.

In Nixon’s second term, however, they began ticking upward again. There were the “Zebra” murders from October 1973 through April 1974 in San Francisco, in which a group of Black Muslims killed at least fifteen Caucasians at random and wounded many others; other estimates hold them responsible for as many as seventy deaths. There was also the murder of Oakland’s black school superintendent by a new group called the Symbionese Liberation Army, who proceeded to seal their militant renown by kidnapping Patty Hearst in February 1974. Then, in May, after Hearst joined up with her revolutionary captors, law enforcement officials decimated their safe house with more than nine thousand rounds of live ammunition, killing six, also on live TV. Between 1972 and 1974 the FBI counted more than six thousand bombings or attempted bombings in the United States, with a combined death toll of ninety-one. In 1975 there were two presidential assassination attempts in one month.

Not to mention a little thing called Watergate. Or the discovery by Congressional investigators that the CIA had participated in plots to kill foreign leaders and spied on tens of thousands of innocent protesters, as well as the revelation that the FBI had tried to spur Martin Luther King Jr. to suicide. Or the humiliating collapse of South Vietnam, as the nation we had propped up with billions in treasure and 58,220 American lives was revealed to be little more than a Potemkin village.

And now? We’re drama queens. The week after Dallas, the host of the excellent public radio show The Takeaway, John Hockenberry, invoked the Manson murders: “America’s perilous dance with Helter Skelter . . . Individual feelings of fear and revenge do not ignite a race war—yet . . .” Yet.

There followed a news report about the civil war in South Sudan, one side loyal to the president, the other to the former vice president. Now that’s a disintegrating society. The Baffler is a print publication, and perhaps between this writing and its arrival in mailboxes we’ll start seeing, say, armed black militants in a major American city randomly killing scores of innocent white people, as in an earlier age—following which, I want to add, American society, no, did not disintegrate.

Our historical narcissism indicts us. Please don’t drag my name into it.

Perlstein adds:

The longing to assimilate the strange to the familiar is only human; who am I to hold myself aloof from it? But it’s just not a good way to study history, which when done right invites readers to tack between finding the familiar in the strange and the strange in the familiar. History roils. Its waves are cumulative, one rolling into another, amplifying their thunder. Or they become attenuated via energies pushing in orthogonal or opposite directions. Or they swirl into directionless eddies, with the ocean’s surface appearance as often as not obscuring grander currents just below.

It’s dispiritingly reminiscent of the consensus I sought to demythologize in Before the Storm that some see Trump only in the ways he is exceptional to the usual waves, currents, eddies of our history—except for that time Rick Perlstein writes about in his books, when Americans hated each other enough to kill each other. “How Did Our Politics Get So Harsh and Divisive? Blame 1968,” was how one recent rumination on the sixties-echo effect in the Trump movement got headlined in the Washington Post. Why not blame 1776, when the nation was born in blood and fire, brother fighting brother? Or 1787, when the Constitution repressed the contradictions between slave and free states, with all the core unresolved tensions slowly simmering until the nation had to be born again, from the blood of the better part of a million Americans slaughtering one another? “How Did Our Politics Become So Harsh and Divisive? Blame 1860.”

Heck, why not blame 1877, when an estimated one hundred people were killed in railroad strikes that involved some one hundred thousand people? Or the “Red Summer” of 1919, which set in motion race riots and lynchings, killing hundreds by 1921, when as many as three hundred died in the Tulsa riot alone? Or 1924, when it took the Democratic Party 103 convention ballots and sixteen days to settle whether the party would be represented by its pro– or anti–Ku Klux Klan factions, while tens of thousands of hooded Klansmen rallied across the river in New Jersey? Or 1945–46, when almost two million Americans went on strike? Or 1995, when a madman blew up a federal building and killed 168, including children in daycare? Why not start at the beginning and blame 1492, or the year the English settled in Massachusetts Bay?

Great stuff here on historical thinking, the uses of history, and historical analogies.  I may use this in my Intro to History course

I should add that I did use this in my Intro to History course and it led to some nice discussion.

Obama the Historian

I loved Obama’s speech at Selma.  It was one of his best. This president is a brilliant public speaker.  I think we are going to miss these grand framing speeches when Obama leaves office.  I know that I am.

A lot of pundits are saying a lot of things–mostly glowing–about the speech today. I don’t have a lot to add to the chorus, but I did want to say a few things about Obama the historian.  My thoughts here are less about the references Obama made to historical figures and more about how his speech reflects, or doesn’t reflect, historical thinking skills.
Context:  Early in the speech, Obama made it clear that what happened in Selma was part of the larger Civil Rights movement.  Most people might take this rhetorical move for granted, but I appreciated it. 
He also went further on this front.  He connected the Civil Rights Movement, like Martin Luther King Jr. did so brilliantly in his March on Washington speech and in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” to the history of American freedom–Lincoln, Franklin, FDR, the American Revolution, immigration, women’s rights, etc…  The Civil Rights movement was all about trying to get the nation to live up to its own ideals.  Or as Obama put it, “Selma was a contest to determine the true meaning of America.”
Change Over Time:  I think Obama’s use of the historical thinking skill of change over time was excellent.  Here is what he said: “What happened in Ferguson may not be unique but its no longer endemic, its no longer sanctioned by law or by custom, and before the Civil Rights movement it most surely was.”  In this section of the speech Obama rejected the idea that “nothing has changed” in America.  There has been a lot of change in race relations over the past fifty years, and it is the historians responsibility (and in this case the President-historian) to point that out.  This part of the speech reminds me of what my colleague James LaGrand recently wrote in a piece about how some are comparing what happened in Ferguson with Jim Crow-style lynching. Check it out.
Continuity:  After leading with change over time, Obama reminded us that racial discrimination “still casts its long shadow upon us.”  Yes, things have changed, but there is still work to do.  What happened in the past still haunts us today.  We are still affected by it. It strikes me that continuity works much better than change over time in speeches like this.  I think that is largely because continuity appeals to what historian Sam Wineburg calls “our psychological condition at rest.”  We all want to link the present and the past.  But we all know that historical thinking is an “unnatural act.”  It forces us to admit to things–like the fact that African Americans in this country are better off today than they were fifty years ago–that our inherent political or activist impulses might struggle to acknowledge.  Referencing all the good that has come out of the Civil Rights movement might weaken our attempts to improve race relations today.
Complexity:  Frankly, there was not much here.  The complexity of the human experience over time does not usually work well in political speeches. Obama stuck to a certain story line that favored Americans overcoming obstacles and discrimination on the quest for greater freedom.  He used the past effectively to make his points, but as we all know, the story of America is much more complex.  Jefferson owned slaves.  Jackie Robinson campaigned for Barry Goldwater.  Lewis and Clark paved the way for the decimation of native tribes in the West. The drive to spread American liberty and freedom informed the White Man’s Burden.  And so on.  Obama also neglected to acknowledge that people like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan, Booker. T. Washington, Nelson Rockefeller, Phyllis Schlafly and others may have also affected change in the United States.
I am not condemning Obama for invoking a past that is useful.  References to Robinson’s support for Goldwater or Jefferson’s slavery would have taken away from his soaring rhetoric and probably would have been inappropriate for a speech like this.  I am just here to point out it failed the complexity test.
For those of you who are teaching your students how to think historically this semester, I encourage you to bring the text of the speech to class this week and have them analyze it with a historian’s eye.
In the meantime, watch this: