Let’s face it. Samford has a miserable history when it comes to dealing with civil rights.
While Frank Park Samford, our namesake trustee, actively opposed integration, we decided to name the university after him.
When the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, we waited three full years before admitting Audrey Lattimore Gaston, Samford’s first black student, to the Cumberland School of Law.
While Dr. King marched through the city in an attempt to let justice flow down like mighty waters, we waited over the mountain, secure and dry and far too comfortable.
When the Southern Christian Leadership Conference protested for the opening of jobs to minority citizens, Samford sat in silence.
When a BOMB went off at 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four young black girls, Samford enjoyed a calm and quiet weekend uninterrupted by the problems of the larger community.
When they found the Klansman who did it and let him off with a fine and six months in jail for illegally possessing dynamite, there were few social justice advocates on Samford’s campus.
When Samford students finally attempted to bridge the gap by inviting students from nearby Miles College to a Samford-hosted performance of the Alabama Sympony Orchestra, the delegation was turned away and our university lumbered on in ignorance and isolation.
And when, in the summer of 2011, the Alabama legislature passed HB 56, one of the most useless and hateful pieces of legislation ever drafted, Samford again slumbered, content with the status quo and willing to allow their community to return to an era of hatred and oppression we all thought was behind us.
Given our history, how could we possibly afford to be asleep now?
Well, Samford isn’t entirely asleep; a few of us have gone it to rallies protesting the bill, including one last Thursday in Linn Park. But even then, as it was in years past, it was a delegation from Miles College that showed Samford what it means to be a Christian university.
Not only was Miles represented by Merika Coleman a state representative and professor, but Miles’ president, Dr. George French, Jr. was also in attendance. Both stood up against the bill; both supported diversity in our state and in our education.
But it wasn’t the commitment to diversity that shook me, because Samford believes in diversity (and is willing to go 8000 miles to prove it). What shook me was when Dr. French declared that Miles College, as a private institution, would welcome any undocumented students who had been turned away by state schools, and there was nothing the state could do about it. “Mi casa es su casa,” he said.
I know that Samford has some undocumented students, but would we be willing to make the commitment that Miles has made?
Would we be willing to open our doors to students like the Alabama Dreamers for the Future, undocumented students working diligently to change these unjust laws and secure a future for themselves?
Will we, as a Baptist institution, sit idly by while the state attempts to tell the church who it can and cannot minister to?
Are we listening when our pastors and our ministers read from the Gospel of Matthew “I was a stranger and you invited me in?”
Given our history, I’m not holding my breath. Sure, there will always be students and faculty who will stand up for the right, as there were in the sixties, but until we can learn to follow the example that Miles College has again set for us, we will only be a shadow of a Christian university.
Aaron Carr is a junior religion and classics double major from Cumming, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.