The Christian Campus In Black and White


W. E. B. Du Bois wrote his prophetic words “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of color line” decades before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Yet those words allowed blacks to note how the removal of Jim Crow from educational institutions was slow in many parts of the country. Often among those responsible were Christian segregationists in Christian schools and colleges. And while Christian schools and colleges today have sought to promote greater diversity in student numbers, there are few people of color teaching in the classroom and in leadership positions.

In Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith examine resistance by white evangelicals toward racial integration as they sought to protect their sense of homogeneity. And Christopher Myers’s White Freedom Schools: The White Academy Movement in Eastern North Carolina, 1954 – 1973 details the growth of segregated independent and Christian schools following the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The number of such schools exploded after 1968, when the Supreme Court demanded absolute integration. By 1970, roughly 500,000 students attended segregated private schools in North Carolina. Many operated from a position that defied integration, often referring to the day of the ruling in the Browncase as “Black Monday.”

The problems that existed for blacks during the 1950s and ’60s are still experienced today. After integration, attitudes at secondary and post-secondary Christian institutions shifted from overt paternalism toward blacks to acute color blindness. Christian institutions continue to operate under a faith-based notion that Jesus does not see color, which is another form of expressing dominant culture beliefs. Since the late 20th century, campuses ignoring the color line have added to the alienation of black students and faculty members.

At the advent of the 20th century, Du Bois exposed the veil of color blindness as it relates to black-American identity with his idea of double consciousness. Du Bois’s premise sheds light on the pretense of a mythical post-racial world on Christian campuses. Black teachers and students today, like those of Du Bois’s time, understand that making whites aware of the talents of black people and their position as a racial group could transform the current norm. But, the lack of black academics on campuses and in positions of leadership in the 21st century means fewer mentors and relevant courses.

The presence of black students on predominantly white Christian campuses has notably increasedover the past decade; on many campuses, however, this is not true of black faculty members. There are more than 100 schools in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, many of which could be described as evangelical. Historically, some of these institutions were slow and even resistant to integration, such as Abilene Christian University and Harding University, schools affiliated with the Churches of Christ.

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SOURCE: The Christian Century
Edward Carson teaches history at the Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts. He blogs at The Professor and is co-authoring a book titled W. E. B. Du Bois and Religion.

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