Lyle Roelofs

Lyle Roelofs

It's both Valentine's Day weekend and Black History Month, a perfect time to write about the interracial mission of Berea College, founded on the doctrine of impartial love.

Before the Civil War, Berea College founder Reverend John G. Fee dreamed of a school where blacks and whites could attend together and learn about their common humanity. In his view, extending educational opportunity this way was an act of "impartial love" inspired by scriptures. Fee's vision was realized in many success stories in the succeeding decades.

Impartial love allowed John Henry Jackson to become the first African-American man to graduate college in Kentucky in 1874. After that, he would be the first at a number of places. Jackson was the first president of the State Association of Colored Teachers, Kentucky's first African-American delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1880, one of the first African-American Berea College trustees, and the first president of what would become Kentucky State University.

Impartial love made it possible for James Bond, born a slave in 1863, to graduate in 1892 and become a college trustee in 1896. When the Kentucky legislature made integrated education illegal in 1904, Bond helped secure funding to establish the Lincoln Institute in Simpsonville so black students could continue their education. His grandson, civil rights icon Julian Bond, chaired the NAACP and was the first African-American to be nominated for vice president of the United States by a major political party.

Impartial love paved the way for sisters Mary and Julia Britton to become firsts as well. The first African-American women to graduate from Berea College in 1874, Julia was the first African-American woman to join the college faculty, and Mary became the first African-American woman physician in Kentucky. Both were also noted suffragettes who fought for women's right to vote.

And Carter G. Woodson, "the father of Black History," was a 1903 graduate of Berea College. He went on to become the second African-American to receive a doctorate degree from Harvard. Woodson chose February to celebrate African-American contributions to history because it was the birth month of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. We honor Woodson's legacy and continue Berea College's commitment to racial understanding and equality through the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education on campus.

Still today, guided by its commitment to impartial love, Berea College practices interracial education. We are working toward racial equity through curriculum, open dialog, and admissions policies that have created a campus that thrives through diversity. With our founder, we continue to believe that impartial love lifts up people "of all nations and climes," and moves us toward his real objective, a more just, equitable society.

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