Monthly Archives: July 2018

Owen Lovejoy Scholarships

Owen Lovejoy (1859)

On November 23, 1859, the minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Illinois Institute, the precursor to Wheaton College, record that the Rev. Jonathan Blanchard opened the meeting in prayer and that seven new members joined the board.  Among these founding Trustees of the soon-to-be-established college was Owen Lovejoy, the younger brother of martyred abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy.  Owen was also a sitting U.S. Congressman from Illinois (who later introduced the bill to outlaw slavery in the United States) and an intimate friend of Abraham Lincoln.

Several years later during the annual trustee meeting of June 1864, Rev. Blanchard, now President of Wheaton College, proposed a new scholarship to honor Owen who had passed away the previous March. The Lovejoy Scholarships would support the education of students of color, and in his remarks about the fund, President Blanchard praised the work and character of his dear friend:

“As it has pleased our Heavenly Father during the last year to remove by death the Rev. & Hon. Owen Lovejoy, a member of this Board, we desire hereby to express our loyal and cheerful submission to the ordering of our Sovereign, infinitely wise and good, while we record our affectionate sorrow and our appreciation of the Christian, the philanthropist, the patriot, who has been removed from us in the meridian of his powers of his influence of his success.

As the life long champion of the despised slave he was worthy of our admiration and our affection. But to his principles of sympathy with everything, with everything that tended to abate from the spirit of caste and to promote a healthy public sentiment, he was willing to cast in his name and influence with this Institution, even when political honors, that had begun to rest upon him, might have tempted him to decline such a relation.

We will ever cherish the memory of his virtues, while we believe that the savor of his self-sacrificing life will be preserved as one of the rich legacies of our nation.

Whereas the Trustees of the Lovejoy Monument Association have proposed the endowment of Lovejoy Scholarships for the education of colored persons [sic] in such of our literary and professional Institutions as will receive the recipients of those funds to equal privileges and on the same terms with the white students.

Resolved, that this Board highly approve the proposed plan of perpetuating the memory of that Christian patriot, that true philanthropist Owen Lovejoy and that we proceed to the endowment of a scholarship of 1000 dollars upon the conditions required by the Monument Association and to be called the Lovejoy Scholarship.”

 

Will D. Campbell and Jim Wallis

At a time when racial tensions are high, we can revisit the unique career of a man who was a civil rights activist yet also sought to evangelize white supremacists.

Will D. Campbell, author and activist, occupied a distinct and somewhat lonely category as he preached a transcendent message of peace during an era of sharply divided political ideologies. Ordained in 1941 at age 17 as a Southern Baptist preacher, Campbell briefly served a pastorate in Louisiana before engaging his lifelong public ministry — advocating for Civil Rights. Presenting himself as a backwoods “bootleg” hayseed, wearing cowboy boots and straw hats, he actually possessed a fine intellect, abundant courage and quick wit. Campbell, siding unhesitatingly with the oppressed and disenfranchised, was one of four who boldly escorted African American students, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” into the racially segregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Campbell was also the only white man to attend the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957.

In addition to frequent lecturing at churches and universities, Campbell wrote fiction and non-fiction. His novels include The Glad River (1982) and The Convention (1988). His autobiography, Brother to a Dragonfly, was a finalist for the 1978 National Book Award. Though Campbell vigorously battled inequality, his simple Christian faith elevated him above the violent forces of impassioned rhetoric. For example, he visited James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., in prison, insisting that the segregationist too is a child of God and a brother. He also ministered to members of the Ku Klux Klan, performing marriages and funerals, visiting them in jail and hospital.

At one prominent event he introduced himself: “My name is Will Campbell. I’m a Baptist preacher. I’m a native of Mississippi. And I’m pro-Klansman because I’m pro-human being.” Not surprisingly, Campbell’s extraordinarily irenic ministry infuriated other civil rights leaders, stirring deep resentment. How could he do such a thing?

“Mr. Jesus died for the bigots as well,” Campbell reasonably responded. “Christ’s death and resurrection is for Eldridge Cleaver [Black Panther leader] and Robert Shelton, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Campbell later remarked, “I never was able to explain to them that pro-Klansman is not the same as pro-Klan. That the former has to do with a person, the other with an ideology. I tried to stand patiently, even in the face of fear and danger, because I had so recently learned that lesson myself.”

His invaluable perspective on race and equality was not lost on key figures of the burgeoning social gospel movement. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, invited Campbell on August 18, 1980, to write for his magazine:

You speak more sanely and clearly about reconciliation and the gospel than anybody I know. We would be very happy to have an article from you on what reconciliation means now, especially in light of the deteriorating racial and economic situation. Your relationship both to southern blacks and poor whites, and the Klan in particular, is pretty unique, and you might want to write something out of all that. Stories drawn from your travels as a sort of pastoral troubleshooter would well illustrate such an article. If the idea grabs you at all, we’d be interested. You could shape the article in any direction you wanted.

Campbell replied on September 2, 1980:

My feeling here is that I don’t have anything to say that I have not said several times already. The alleged resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan is, I believe, largely a media mind stance. The Klan has never really gone away. I continue to try to point out that a few hundred poor, confused folks marching around a burning cross, or even gunning down folks marching in Greensboro, are not the real racist enemy in the country. And a lot of folks go on seeing me as some kind of apologist for the KKK. I have never said that they are not evil. The point is that we who practice the sophisticated and socially acceptable brand of racism are more evil.

After an active career of prophetic proclamation and courageous action, Campbell died at age 88 in 2013.

Jim Wallis’s brief exchange with Will D. Campbell is maintained in the Sojourners collection (SC-23) of Special Collections, Buswell Library. Sojourners’ mission is to inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world. You can read more about their racial justice efforts here