“The Problem of Memory of Slavery and Racism at Southern Seminary: An Urgent Call to Remove the Four Founders-Slave Owners from the Seminary’s Current Memory”
For such a time as this, the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, should be on the right side of history. In 2017, African American scholars and professors Jarvis J. Williams and Kevin M. Jones edited an important book called “Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention.” The basic objective of the book was to revisit the history and legacy of slavery and racism in the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as to propose new solutions to heal the wounded soul of the Convention. In fact, the SBC was founded in 1845 because of a split over the issue of slavery.
Historically, the SBC had not only endorsed slavery as an institution; as a Christian organization, it condemned the abolitionist movement nationwide and supported and practiced racial segregation in its churches, seminaries, and institutions. Contributors of the book such as R. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Daniel Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Matthew Hall, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Curtis A. Woods, Assistant Professor of Applied Theology and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Walter R. Strickland II II, Assistant Professor of Systematic and Contextual Theology and Associate Vice President for Diversity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; W. William Dwight McKissic, Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and others have affirmed the difficulty of the Convention to confront its racial history and make peace with its historical memory grounded on the heresy of white superiority and inferiority of Blacks and African Americans. They also observed that as a denomination, the SBC continues to struggle to remove stains of racial prejudice in its institutions and create a positive image for itself.
For example, in the same book, President Mohler affirmed that “We cannot tell the story of the Southern Baptist Convention without starting with slavery. In fact, the SBC was not only founded by slaveholders; it was founded by men who held to an ideology of racial superiority and who bathed that ideology in scandalous theological argument.” In the opening sentence of his chapter, Hall confirmed that “Southern Baptists are more haunted by the ghosts of white supremacy and racism than most denominations. While the specter of racialized injustice and evil left no corner of American religious life untouched, our family of churches has had a particularly sordid and tragic part to play in this story.” President Akin suggested various virtues and qualities that are necessary if the SBC institutions, seminaries, and churches are going to make any substantial progress toward racial justice and to deal with its racial crisis:
“[O]vercoming racism requires humility and sacrifice of the majority race, virtues that do not come easily. You see, welcoming you into my community on my terns is one thing. But to surrender my preferences so that you can feel at home in what is now our community is something more. But let me go further. Even more humility and sacrifice are needed for me to invite you to the table of leadership and to welcome you to sit at the head of the table. Until we can arrive at this God-ordained destination, our convention of churches will struggle to receive the full blessing of God and attain credibility with a cynical and skeptical culture that already questions the authenticity of our faith.”
Within the same line of thought, I am proposing that in these urgent moments of crisis the Southern Baptist Convention has a golden opportunity to eradicate vestiges of racism and white supremacy embodied in Confederate-related items from its campuses and institutions, and to create a committee to review buildings, facilities, and halls that still bear the names of Confederate members, white supremacists, segregationists, and slave owners, such as the four founders of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: James P. Boyce, John Broadus, Basil Manly Jr., and William Williams.
Toward this goal, the SBC will make use of this terrific occasion to reinvent itself in the public sphere and to repair its damages as a Christian denomination. This endeavor will move the Convention one step forward toward good practices of racial justice and reconciliation; this constructive effort will also help heal the racial trauma and terror that have for many years affected Blacks and African Americans. This is also a project of both intellectual and spiritual reassessment, and deconstruction and reconstruction. I am suggesting that this important work must begin with the Convention’s flagship institution: The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In the year 2017, President Albert Mohler had appointed a committee of six individuals to prepare a report on the legacy of slavery and racism in the history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The members of the committee have concluded that the four founders of Southern Seminary, as named above, were active slave owners, ardent white supremacists, and energetically fought against the emancipation of the enslaved population in the United States. In the preface to the report, President Mohler made this honest declaration:
We cannot escape the fact that the honest lament of the SBC should have been accompanied by the honest lament of her first school, first seminary, and first institution. We knew ourselves to be fully included in the spirit and substance of that resolution in 1995, but the moral burden of history requires a more direct and far more candid acknowledgment of the legacy of this school in the horrifying realities of American slavery, Jim Crow segregation, racism, and even the avowal of white racial supremacy. The fact that these horrors of history are shared with the region, the nation, and with so many prominent institutions does not excuse our failure to expose our own history, our own story, our own cherished heroes, to an honest accounting—to ourselves and to the watching world.
Below, I share five major conclusions from the report (The name of the report was “Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.” The complete document can be accessed on the website of the Seminary.) that substantiate my underlining thesis:
- “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.”
- “The seminary’s early faculty and trustees defended the righteousness of slaveholding. The semi-nary 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. Despite his early opposition to slavery as a young man, Basil Manly Sr. eventually became one of its most ardent apologists.”
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “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.’”
To bring this important matter in the context of the ongoing events in our country, since the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis, across the country and the world, protestors and state leaders have asked to reexamine America’s racist legacy, especially associated with the institution of slavery, Confederate ideology and nationalism, and Jim Crow laws/segregation. In various major urban areas and at least 22 cities such as Richmond, Virginia; Jacksonville, Florida; and Indianapolis, IN; Mobile, AL; San Francisco, CA; New London, CT; Atlanta, GA; Frankfurt, KY; Louisiana, NO; Boston, MA; Detroit, MI; and Minneapolis, Minnesota have already removed or approved the removal of Confederate monuments and statues of slave owners. For example,
• In Alabama, a bronze statue of the Confederate Navy officer Raphael Semmes, was removed from Mobile street and now relocated in the History Museum of Mobile.
• In San Francisco, California, a statue of Christopher Columbus was removed and now placed in storage.
• In Delaware, a statue of a renowned former Delaware leader who owned slaves was removed from the public place.
• In Florida, a Confederate statue that was located in a northeast Florida park for more than a century was recently removed. In downtown Jacksonville, a statue of a Confederate soldier that was located next to the City Hall was also removed.
• In the Kentucky Capitol (Frankfurt), protestors have ordered the governor to take down the statue of Jefferson Davis. Granted their request, the renowned statue will be soon removed.
Beyond the United States, in the city of Bristol, British protesters toppled and then dragged into the river the famous statue of Edward Colston, a notorious 17th-century slave trafficker of Africans. The British people also demanded the removal of the statute of white supremacist and imperialist of Cecil Rhodes. Protesters in Ireland have called to remove a statue of Oliver Cromwell from outside the Houses of Parliament in London. The statue of the celebrated slave trader and colonizer Christopher Columbus was removed in Trinidad and scheduled to be placed in the National Museum or the National Archives. Other protestors have demanded the removal of the statue of the American slave owner Thomas Jefferson in multicultural Paris, France. The presence of these statues and memorials in the public space continue to remind us of the cruelty of slavery and colonialism, as well as the history of suffering and subjection of enslaved African population in the Americas. Black people and people of color in the American society continue to suffer the legacy of slavery, racial trauma, and racial segregation.
In addition to the multiple reasons stated above, the most pressing cause I am requesting the removal of the names of the four founders from Southern seminary’s halls, library, undergraduate college, chapel, and elsewhere on campus is that they do not belong to today’s multiethnic, multiracial, and multicultural Southern Baptist Convention and SBTS. The names of these four gentlemen bring too much pain and suffering to African Americans, Black Christians, SBTS Black seminarians and alumni, and the numerous African American and ethnic churches affiliated with the SBC. Also, their names on the Seminary’s halls, library, chapel, and undergraduate college remind us of the long-held tradition of suppressing the freedoms and rights of Blacks and people of color in this country and in the Convention, concurrently. To continue to honor these figures at Southern Seminary and the SBC is to express racial insensibility and to undermine the dignity and humanity of Blacks and African American people, and people of color. In the same line of reasoning, to maintain these four names in the Seminary’s current memory and archive is to overlook the rich legacy of blacks and people of color in their struggle for racial justice, equality, integration, human rights, and freedom in the American society. Below, I name the six tangible items, memorials, and symbols that need to be renamed at Southern Seminary:
- Boyce College: Boyce College is the undergraduate branch of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; it bears the name of the slave owner, white supremacist, and Confederate preacher James P. Boyce. James P. Boyce was the first President of Southern Seminary, from 1859-1888.
- James P. Boyce Centennial Library: The main library of Southern Seminary also bears the name of James P. Boyce.
- Manly Hall: Basil Manly, Jr., served as professor of Old Testament at Southern seminary from 1859-1871, and 1879-1892, respectively. Manly Hall at the Seminary honors his racist legacy as a slave master.
- Broadus Chapel: The main chapel at Southern is named after John A. Broadus. Broadus was the second president of Southern Seminary, serving from 1889-1895. He was a fierce defender of the institution of slavery and white supremacy.
- Mullins Hall: The designation Mullins Hall refers both to the entire student housing complex and to some individual units in it. Edgar Young Mullins served as Southern’s fourth president, from 1899-1928. Mullins Hall celebrates his mixed legacy as a white supremacist, a Baptist preacheand a champion of racial segregation.
- Williams Halls: The designation Williams Hall refers to Dean and Administration offices, Faculty offices, and some Dorm housing. William Williams served as Professor of Church history at Southern Seminary, from, 1859-1877. Williams Halls celebrates the mixed legacy of a slave master and white supremacist.
In conclusion, I hope the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary correspondingly will be committed to completely removing the four finders’ names, items, and symbols that memorialize their racist history and racial practices. By removing their names, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention would show to the American public and Black Christians that their commitment to racial healing and reconciliation is not a matter of lip-service; rather, it is matter of practice and upholding human dignity and worth as Christian organizations. To continue to memorialize these four individuals (James P. Boyce, John Broadus, Basil Manly Jr., William Williams) is to bring dishonor to the gospel and to bring shame to the Church of Jesus Christ. This is a matter of great urgency; it is also a matter of great significance for the future and public witness of the Seminary and the Convention, correspondingly.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “Report on Slavery and
Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,”
https://www.sbts.edu/southern-project/. the complete document can be
accessed on the website of the Seminary.
Los Angeles Times Staff and Wire Reports, “Where have statues of
Confederates, and other historical figures, been removed?” Los Angeles
Times, June 19, 2020,
Ivan Pereira,” Here’s where Confederate statues and memorials have
been removed in the US,” ABC News, June 19, 2020,
Bonnie Berkowitz and Adrian Blanco, “Confederate monuments are
falling, but hundreds still stand. Here’s where,” The Washington Post,
June 20, 2020,
Marlene L. Daut, “Tear Down that Statue, Mr. Macron!” History News
Network, June 14, 2020, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/175963
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “The History of the SBTS,”
Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives: Biographies,