WVSU On Demand
June 10, 2009
Flynt Recalls Racial Integration of Samford
Auburn University Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, social activist and noted historian Wayne Flynt `61 delivered one of three plenary lectures at the 2009 annual meeting of the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities (IABCU) in Birmingham in early June. Samford University Provost and Professor of Religion Brad Creed, and Southern Illinois University history professor Pamela A. Smoot delivered the other two lectures in the series.
Flynt’s contribution to the IABCU’s H.I. Hester Distinguished Lecture Series focused on the racial integration of the meeting’s host institution, Samford University, in the 1960s and 1970s.
As a Samford alumnus, former faculty member, parent and current member of the university’s board of overseers, as well as a distinguished Baptist historian, Flynt brought a unique and highly personal perspective to his subject..
Flynt noted that although universities spend a great deal of time in detailed planning and self-examination, “change comes more often from crisis than design.” While conducting research for his memoir, still in progress, he has delved deep into the controversies that marked his tenure as a member of Samford’s faculty from 1965-1977, a period of extreme cultural turmoil and change-driving crisis in the deep South.
The university’s whites-only culture and official resistance to desegregation was a heavy ethical burden for the idealistic young professor and likeminded students and colleagues. Seeking to lead by example they helped register Black voters and created tutoring programs in the majority black community of Rosedale, near the campus.
Flynt said one of the Rosedale students in the tutoring program, Elizabeth Sloan, was among the first residential black undergraduates admitted to Samford after the university officially desegregated in the late 1960s. Flynt’s voice broke as he recalled that when Sloan arrived at her dorm she was led to an empty room (she was not allowed a roommate) and that as late as 1975 a Samford fraternity raised funds for Christian missions by hosting a “slave day.”
Flynt described the ways Samford leaders, including influential trustee Frank P. Samford and president Leslie S. Wright, obstructed desegregation until that policy threatened the existence of the university. Flynt noted that although history has judged that such leaders were in the wrong, they might argue that they were products of their age and culture, and in some cases may have felt trapped by the intense and conflicting constituent pressures Baptist higher education administrators face—then and now.
“The journey is not easy for any of us,” Flynt said, “and we must all do the best we can to sort out what is Christ’s realm and what is culture’s realm.”