During February and March, the library's special collections and archives departments have put together an exhibit on slavery and African-American life in the upcountry, which is on display in the library's gallery. The exhibit runs until March 25.
We’ve spent the past few weeks exploring some of the history behind the college’s desegregation, and have talked about the college’s first African-American student and graduate. Several other “firsts” are also worth noting.
At first, the college did not make any special effort to recruit black students, though the administration and faculty welcomed those who enrolled. In the late 1960s, however, under President Paul Hardin III, the college made a greater effort to recruit African-American students. Ned Sydnor ‘55, who was director of special educational activities in the late 1960s, worked to recruit minority students.
In 1970, the college appointed its first African-American administrator when President Hardin named Bobby E. Leach, a teacher and assistant principal at Carver High School, to be assistant dean of students and director of the Residence Hall Education Program. RHEP was designed to create new learning opportunities in the residence halls, but Leach’s presence on campus was another signal that the college was trying to make greater strides toward integration. Leach left Wofford in 1973 and later became Vice President for Student Affairs at Florida State University. He died in 1989.
The college granted its first honorary degree to an African-American in 1972.
Bishop James S. Thomas was a South Carolina native who graduated from Claflin University and Gammon Theological Seminary before earning a Ph.D. at Cornell University. Elected a bishop in 1964 to serve the predominantly white Iowa Annual Conference, Thomas was one of the earliest African-American bishops to serve a predominantly white area. He had served churches in South Carolina before teaching at Gammon Seminary, and later served as an officer of the Methodist Church’s board of education and other leading United Methodist Church positions.
One of the early tests of the college’s speakers policy came when comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory accepted an invitation to speak on campus in 1969.
The announcement that Gregory, who had led protests in other parts of the country and who had spoken on many college campuses in the late 1960s, alarmed some alumni and friends of the college in Spartanburg.
One letter-writer wrote that he had “grave doubts that I am doing right by supporting Wofford at this time. Spartanburg has been relatively free of serious civil disorders, but this is not likely to continue if ‘civil rights’ leaders are given a forum on your campus, since violence, mayhem, and property destruction are their aims. It seems to follow them everywhere.”
A Wofford student investigated the “alarmed and disturbed” reaction in the area, finding that Gregory’s civil rights activism was the reason for much of the criticism.
However, just before Gregory was scheduled to speak, his appeal of a resisting-arrest conviction was denied and he had to report for a five-month jail sentence.
Gregory did eventually make it to Wofford.
Nine years later, in 1978, he spoke at Wofford at the invitation of the campus cultural and religious affairs committee.
Photos, from top: Dean Bobby E. Leach; Bishop James S. Thomas with President Paul Hardin III; Comedian Dick Gregory.
While commendations and condemnations continued to arrive in
the daily mail throughout the summer of 1964, the Marsh administration moved
forward with plans to admit Wofford’s first African-American student.
President Marsh informed the trustees that the college had
received inquiries from two seniors at Spartanburg’s Carver High School on the day the Board voted to expand the admissions policy. These inquiries came before the public announcement of the policy change, but acting under Marsh’s direction, Registrar and Admissions Director Bates Scoggins sent
the students an application packet. A few days later, three more inquiries from Carver students arrived and were handled the same way. After the public announcement, three students from another Spartanburg County high school visited the admissions office and were given application
As of June 3, only one student of the eight had actually submitted an application, a student at Carver High School. He had good recommendations and high class rank, according to Marsh, and when his file was complete, the admissions committee would make a decision. Marsh believed it was likely that the committee would find him eligible for admission.
The committee did find him eligible, and in September 1964,
Albert Gray of Spartanburg enrolled, becoming Wofford’s first African-American student. The AP wire story read as follows:
“Spartanburg, SC, Sept. 8 (AP).—Albert Gray, 18, of Spartanburg, became Wofford College’s first Negro student yesterday.
“He enrolled at the Methodist school as a freshman. He will major in sociology.
“Young Gray finished third in his class atCarver High School here. His father is a construction
worker at the World’s Fair in New York.
“‘I made the decision to enter Wofford myself,’ the student
told newsmen. He called the school ‘a wonderful
college’ and said he was not influenced to register by any group.”
Gray’s enrollment at Wofford was interrupted by a summons from the Army to serve in Vietnam. Though he had failed to pass a physical when he applied for ROTC, he passed it when he was later drafted. After he returned from Vietnam, he came back to Wofford and finished his degree in 1971. After becoming a successful businessman in Spartanburg, Mr. Gray joined the Wofford Board of Trustees.
In a 1992 interview in the Old Gold and Black, Mr. Gray attributed his decision to enroll at Wofford as a “mixture of necessity and youthful naiveté.” “You had to be rather naïve to do what I did. I didn’t have any fear.”
The next fall, freshman Douglas L. Jones enrolled as the college’s second African-American student. At Wofford, he wrote in the Old Gold and Black, was in the Baptist
Student Union, ROTC, and Hyperopics. He lived on campus as a freshman, but lived off campus after that. He started off as a math major but was inspired, he later explained, by Professor Dan Olds
to add a physics major as well. He graduated in 1969, becoming the college’s first black graduate. He went on to graduate school at USC, and pursued an engineering career. He works for Michelin as a customer engineering support manager. Two of his children are also Wofford alums.
Pictures: Albert Gray as a first year student; Doug Jones,
President Joe Lesesne, and Albert Gray in 1999, on the 35th anniversary of Gray’s enrollment and the 30th anniversary of Jones’ graduation. Also, President Charles Marsh’s letter to the campus announcing Gray’s enrollment.
Lest I leave you with the belief that the college’s alumni, Methodist friends, and others opposed the college’s decision to desegregate, today I’m sharing a few letters from supporters of the decision.
J. Claude Evans, a 1937 Wofford graduate, was serving as chaplain of Southern Methodist University in 1964. He had taken his seminary degree at Duke and had received an honorary degree from Wofford in 1957. He had entered the ministry in South Carolina in 1940, serving churches in Columbia, Walhalla, McCormick, and Clemson before becoming editor of the South Carolina Methodist Advocate in 1953. In 1958, he left the state to become chaplain at SMU.
I especially note his wording – his son had called long-distance, a rarity in those days – to share the news. Evans sympathized with the difficult decision Marsh and the trustees had to make. “But it places Wofford squarely behind the tenable educational theory that capacity to learn, and not race, should be the standard for admission.”
Wallace Fridy also wrote to support the decision. Fridy was a minister serving the St. John’s Methodist Church in Anderson. He was a Clemson graduate who had earned his seminary degree at Yale before entering the ministry in South Carolina. He had served several large churches in the state, and had represented the state at General and Jurisdictional Conferences. “You have certainly acted wisely and well in making this declaration of purpose. So, ‘mid the communications you will perhaps receive of the negative nature, I would like to add my positive word of appreciation. You have taken the wise and right course,” Fridy wrote.
The third letter comes from The Rev. T. Carlisle Cannon, who was older than the other two men. He was a Citadel graduate who entered the ministry in 1923 after graduating from Emory. He had served all over the state, from Pickens to Newberry to Columbia to Edgefield, and had been Sumter District Superintendent in the 1950s. His is perhaps the most emphatic letter in support of the college. Perhaps that’s because he was also a member of Wofford’s board of trustees.
“If there was ever a time when our Christian leaders in Church and State should speak out clearly and boldly about the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man, it is now. Our Christian colleges and universities cannot afford to lag behind in this all-important manner.”
Last Tuesday’s blog post talked about the early administrative and trustee deliberations about desegregation at the college. Today’s post talks about the final decision to desegregate, the announcement, and the reaction.
Throughout the spring of 1964, Wofford trustees considered the desegregation issue. The special study committee of the Board of Trustees, chaired by the Rev. Dr. Francis T. Cunningham, reported to the February and May meetings of the board with its recommendation that “no qualified student be barred from Wofford College on account of race.” The board discussed the matter at both meetings, though the minutes do not indicate anything of the substance of the discussion. At the May 12, 1964 meeting, the board voted to endorse the college’s statement of admissions as it was printed in the catalogue, with the assurance “that said statement of admissions policy is applicable to all students who may apply, regardless of race or creed.”
The board left it to President Marsh’s discretion as to when and how to make the announcement of this decision. He waited a week before notifying the faculty, staff, and students. No official press release was made, but within a day of the announcement to the campus, the local news media were on the story.
Marsh wrote to the trustees on June 3 to update them on the reaction to the announcement and to talk about plans for implementing the decision. He told the trustees that his office “has received both favorable and unfavorable comments on the action of the Board. The twenty-five favorable communications have come from a variety of sources—alumni and non-alumni, lay and ministerial—and have been most heartening. Four have included financial contributions. In addition to the two communications from churches withdrawing financial support, we have received eighteen other unfavorable communications. Six have been anonymous and of a scurrilous nature. Four have been sincere letters expressing sorrow and withholding fairly regular financial support. We have had no unfavorable comment from students or faculty members and no student withdrawals which appear to be related to our recent action. Our Alumni and Commencement exercises were well attended and happy occasions with no untoward incidents.”
Marsh continued to receive mail from various college constituents throughout the summer. The archives has several folders of letters from all over the state and from other parts of the country expressing support for the decision, opposition to the decision, or outright disgust with Marsh and the college. Some of the letters are quite harsh in their criticism.
Marsh and the trustees anticipated the controversy would boil over at the meeting of the South Carolina Methodist Annual Conference in June. Marsh pre-empted an attack from churches and lay members who objected to desegregation by taking the floor before the appointed time and making a strong statement explaining how and why the college chose to act as it had. Though there was a debate, supporters of the college prevailed in a floor vote.
All that remained was for the college to weather the criticism and to successfully admit and enroll the first African-American student.
We’ll save that for next time.
Click on the images to see a larger version.
On Saturday morning, February 9, I am giving an address to the South Carolina Annual Conference Historical Society on the history of Methodism in Spartanburg. The Historical Society is a group of lay and clergy Methodists from throughout South Carolina who share an interest in the history and heritage of United Methodism. The group meets twice a year, in February and October, often in local churches.
In my research for the address, I looked at some of the things that have made Spartanburg more of a Methodist town than most of us would realize. The city is home to two Methodist church-related colleges, but in its history, other Methodist agencies found their homes in the Hub City.
Of course, there are many different kinds of churches. One of the city’s older churches is Silver Hill United Methodist Church. It’s the oldest African-American Methodist congregation in the city, dating back to 1869. Tradition holds that as the first permanent church building was being built, church members placed silver dollars under each corner of the new church on a hill, giving the name “Silver Hill.” For generations of Methodists in Spartanburg, Silver Hill was the center of the community.
Silver Hill was founded by the Reverend James R. Rosemond, who also served as the church’s first minister. He was held in such high esteem by black Methodists in his day that he came to be called “Father Rosemond,” an unusual title for a Methodist elder.
Father Rosemond founded a large number of African-American Methodist churches in the Upcountry – from Anderson and Oconee counties in the west through York and Chester counties in the east. Rosemond’s is an inspiring story; he was born in slavery and separated from his parents at age six. He was sent to live with a Methodist minister’s family, and early on felt a call to preach. As a young adult, he was licensed to exhort, which was something like today’s lay speaker, and much later, was licensed as a “colored preacher” in the 1850s. After emancipation, he was ordained into the Methodist ministry and sent to minister to the freedmen in the Upcountry. He faced no small amount of hostility from white Carolinians, but was able to establish churches nonetheless.
He returned to Spartanburg in his last years, and at least one of his daughters remained a member of and Sunday school teacher at Silver Hill for years. His daughter Mary went to Claflin University in Orangeburg as well as Scotia Seminary in North Carolina and became an important teacher and civic worker in Spartanburg. She founded the Carrier Street School, which was later named in her honor. Her name: Mary H. Wright. The school still operates on Spartanburg’s Southside.
Silver Hill Church moved from its home on North Converse Street to a new location west of downtown in the late 1990s.
The photos, of Silver Hill, of Rev. James R. Rosemond, and of the interior of Sliver Hill, come from the History of Silver Hill United Methodist Church, 1869-1981, edited by Mac Goodwin and published by the church in 1981.
February is Black History Month, and I think it’s appropriate to take a few moments to look at how Wofford arrived at its decision, in 1964, to desegregate the college. Anyone who is more interested in this subject will find a wealth of materials in President Charles F. Marsh’s papers. This will be the first of several posts on this topic. Today – the preliminaries.
President Marsh and the trustees of the college could clearly see that they were going to have to confront the issue of segregation at the college. The decision was for the trustees to make, but they had to consider the opinions of the various constituencies of the college – the faculty, the student body, the alumni, friends of the college, and most significantly, South Carolina Methodists. In 1962 and 1963, as public colleges and universities throughout the region desegregated, usually under court order, Wofford’s officers began quietly to plan for desegregation. They knew, from public sentiment, that they had a lot of work to do.
At its 1962 session, the South Carolina Annual Conference of the Methodist Church soundly defeated a resolution calling for the desegregation of both Wofford and Columbia College in 1963. Proposed by the Rev. James Copeland, then serving churches in Woodruff, SC, the resolution called for all church-wide projects in the state be open to all persons, and Copeland specifically urged the conference to open the two colleges to African-Americans in September 1963. After some discussion, the motion was defeated in a standing vote, with observers noting only about twenty individuals standing in support.
In the fall of 1963, President Marsh presented his thoughts on desegregation to the Board of Trustees. He wrote:
As one individual, whose personal ideas and attitudes have been shaped by his own experiences and environment over the years, I have no personal objection to the admission of fully qualified Negro students to Wofford and, indeed, see strong moral and ethical reasons why they should be granted this opportunity. As a longtime resident of two Southern States, on the other hand, I am sympathetically aware of the strong personal feelings of some members of this Board and many other constituents of the College against the admission of Negroes to Wofford.
As the officially selected leaders of the College, however, our personal desires or opinions with respect to this highly controversial matter must be secondary to a careful analysis of the significant facts and their bearing upon the continued ability of the College to perform its functions as a first-rate educational institution of the Methodist Church.
Dr. Marsh went on to list potential adverse effects of a decision to desegregate, which included
1. Sadness and bitterness concerning the college on the part of some of its alumni, supporters, and friends.
2. Loss of financial support from some South Carolina Methodist churches.
3. Loss of financial support from some individual alumni and other supporters.
4. Withdrawal of some students from college and decline in application from some prospective students.
5. Complications in housing, social life, and attitudes of students and faculty toward Negroes who may be admitted.
He also listed adverse effects of a decision to remain segregated
1. Ineligibility for substantial financial grants by private foundations
2. Ineligibility for National Science Foundation grants
3. Possible ineligibility for National Defense Loans for students (our most attractive loans to students at present)
4. Possibility that the 1964 General Conference may withhold National Methodist Scholarships and Loans from segregated institutions
5. Loss of support – financial and otherwise – from alumni
6. Increasing difficulty in attracting qualified students and faculty.
7. Increasing isolation from the main currents of educational and religious policy and practice.
All but 13 of the 76 four-year Methodist colleges, all eight of the Methodist universities, and all twelve of the seminaries accept qualified Negro students.
Marsh made other points that he wanted the trustees to consider. As a result, the trustees appointed a special study committee, which met several times in 1963 and early 1964. The study committee recommended that the college desegregate, and reported its action to the full board, which held off for several months before making its final decision.
When I asked the communications office if I could have a
blog, it was largely because I come across items from time to time that are too
good not to share with the community. When I found these two letters a few weeks ago, buried in a stack of
crumbling files from the early 1920s, I knew instantly that these were
At first glance, the letters don’t appear that
important. A speaker writes a college
president to thank him for inviting him to speak on the campus, and the
president writes back to thank the speaker for sharing an hour with the
students. It seems like a routine
exchange of cordial letters. It’s
certainly how I read them as I quickly shuffled through them. But then I looked at the top of the
stationery and noticed “Tuskegee Institute.” And then I noticed the address on Snyder’s reply. Professor George W. Carver. George Washington Carver? Indeed.
The 1920s are sometimes referred to by southern historians
as the “nadir of American race relations.” Throughout that decade, African-Americans left the South in droves,
seeking better working opportunities and an escape from racial violence. Rigid segregation of most every aspect of
public life was the order of the day.
But here, we have a cordial exchange of letters between two
academic colleagues. Snyder addresses
Carver as “Professor Carver.” Carver
thanks Snyder for “the very warm reception” that he “shall not soon forget.” Carver has clearly addressed the Wofford
student body, most likely in a Chapel service in Leonard Auditorium. Snyder says that the students “felt greatly
instructed by the experience of the hour which you gave them.” Carver invites Snyder, if he ever were to be
in the area, to visit Tuskegee.
You’d never know, without recognizing names of persons or
institutions, that the correspondence represents an exchange of letters across
the color line.
We don’t really know what happened on that day in December
1923 – we don’t have the Old Gold and Black for that year, and the Journal is
silent. We don’t know what Carver said
to the students. No doubt being
addressed by an African-American scholar was an unusual experience for Wofford
professors and students alike.
But I’d like to think the experience was a positive one for
Click on the letters for larger images.