Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Baptist College President Promoting On-Campus Racial Diversity

Because of the long, tortured, history of my tradition, the Baptists, with racism (Baptists have often been pioneers in racial justice and reconciliation globally, but in the Southern U.S., white Baptists have been mostly known for defending slavery and segregation), I am always delighted to publicize those efforts by Baptists to “get it right” on racial justice and reconciliation.  One current effort right here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky was noticed just this morning in the Louisville Courier-Journal, the newspaper with the highest circulation in the state.  William Crouch, President of Georgetown College outside of Lexington, KY, is working to increase racial diversity on campus among students and faculty, with a specific goal of increasing African-American enrollment from 6% to 17%.

Let’s put this in context:  Although living in Louisville, I tend to forget how “white” Kentucky is, the Commonwealth is 90% “white non-Hispanic” on the latest census report.  Most African-Americans in this former slave state live in just 3 counties, with the largest concentration here in Louisville (Jefferson County).  Unless one is on the campus of Berea College, which was founded by abolitionist Christians, one can literally travel miles throughout Eastern Kentucky (either North or South of Lexington) without meeting an African-American. (I almost wrote “a non-white” but recent immigrant labor patterns have been increasing Hispanic populations throughout the Commonwealth.)

Georgetown College, the first Baptist school of higher education west of the Allegheny Mountains was founded in 1798 by Rev. Elijah Craig, a white Baptist minister who is also generally credited with the invention of bourbon whiskey! (Since most Baptists in the U.S.A. have been, at least “officially,” teetotalers since the rise of the 19th C. Temperance Movement, there is no mention of Rev. Craig’s ties to bourbon on Georgetown College website. No alcohol is allowed on the college campus, even though the initial school endowment is built on Craig’s bourbon patents. For non-U.S. and non-Baptist readers, the ironies will increase. Bourbon County, Kentucky, named for the Bourbon French that first emigrated to that area of Kentucky in the 18th C., and the county where Craig invented bourbon, has been a “dry” county since before Prohibition.  That is, bourbon is manufactured and exported from Bourbon County, but it is illegal to consume any inside the county limits. Only transplanted outsiders like myself much remark on the ironies. Indigenous Kentuckians take this as “normal.” 🙂 ) Slave labor in tobacco production was another early source of revenue and endowment for this college, as with many another Southern college or university–regardless of state or religious ties.

GC has historic ties to the (white) Kentucky Baptist Convention and the (white) Southern Baptist Convention.  Because Georgetown College (which should never be confused with the Catholic-founded Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.) is a “moderate” school theologically, it has weakened ties with the SBC since the takeover in the 1980s and early ’90s of the SBC by far-right, highly politicized, fundamentalism.  Georgetown has formed ties with the moderate breakaway groups known as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and it’s statewide affiliation, the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship.  Many of the older leaders of the CBF are among those few white Baptists in the South (then Southern Baptists) who were at least moderately active in supporting the goals of the Civil Rights Movement during the ’50s and ’60s.  Georgetown President William Crouch comes out of that mileau–his father was one of the handful of white Baptist ministers fighting segregation during the ’60s.  But the KBF/CBF crowd is still largely white and most have great difficulty learning to travel in the circles of black Baptists.  Like most “white liberals,” they talk a better game than they place when it comes to racial justice.

But Crouch and Georgetown are trying to go beyond the usual cosmetic efforts.  As the Courier-Journal reports, Crouch has taken several courses in African-American culture in order to break down barriers and end miscommunications.  He has established formal relationships between Georgetown College and several historically black Baptist denominations. (We Baptists multiply by dividing–over theology, race, language, politics, gender matters, heck–sometimes we divide over what side of the church to put the organ on!) The education branches of those Black Baptist groups now have representation on Georgetown’s trustee board.  He is recruiting African-American faculty (although only has one “catch,” so far).  He is trying to lure historic African-American fraternities and sororities to establish chapters in the “Greek” culture at Georgetown College. (I’ve never understood the attraction of fraternities and sororities, myself, but I do recognize it.) And, most controversially, Crouch is trying to get Georgetown College to “adopt” the legacy of Bishop College near Dallas, TX.

Bishop College was a historic Black Baptist College that, like many historic black colleges and universities, has fallen on hard times since the end of segregation–unintentional victims of greater choices by African-Americans coupled with ever-rising educational costs. Bishop College went bankrupt in the 1980s, so Crouch is trying to get Georgetown to be host to reunions for Bishop faculty and alumni/ae, to hold the archives of the school and preserve its history, etc. In return, he hopes that Bishop alumni/ae will promote Georgetown to new generations of African-Americans with excellent academic records and potential.  He is increasing the financial aid offered to non-white students, though he has to combat rumors among white students and alumni/ae that he is lowering admissions standards for non-white students and that all incoming black students are on full scholarship–neither of which is true.

There have been missteps along the way, as any such ambitious effort must expect to encounter.  But Crouch is surely right that the 21st C. will be increasingly diverse and that education in a racially/ethnically and culturally diverse environment will better prepare people to live and work in this increasingly global community.  And, although I would want to caution Crouch not to undermine the efforts of historic black colleges and universities to survive and thrive amidst all their challenges, it sure is great to see at least one historically white Baptist insitution of higher education evolve past a history based on slavery, segregation, and racism.

Three cheers for President William Crouch and Georgetown College.

January 14, 2008 - Posted by | Baptists, race, social history, theological education


  1. Great insight! As a graduate of Georgetown College, I am glad to see the desire for increased diversity from President Crouch. Georgetown still has a long way to go (when I was a student it consisted mostly of middle-class white students), but with initiatives like the Bishop College program and the recent partnerships with the 4 national Black Baptist Conventions, Georgetown is leading the way in emphasizing the importance of diversity in Kentucky’s private colleges.

    Comment by Jeremy | January 14, 2008

  2. glad to hear about that… yeah i agree with what other people says about your college.. May i know the difference of georgetown college with Georgetown university?

    Comment by erich | January 25, 2008

  3. it’s just sad to know that racism has always been a problem to higher educational institutions and it is really amazing that your school is doing an action on it. keep on doing what is really right. This news from the school of yours will not only emphasized that you valued every student wherever they came from or of who the are. i just hope that other schools in the US will have thar insight as what you have.. keep On going!>>>>>>. GODBLESS YOU ALL!

    Comment by erich | January 25, 2008

  4. With all the regards of racism it is always a problem. It’s a pressingconcern on every universities. A sad fact that only a few of college adminstrations notice this kind of problem. With this insight of yours, it will open an avenue that your school is not only taking but taking the risk of future accounts on the new insight of yours. racism is really a problem it always degrades and boost out inferiority complex.thank God you’ve see the proiblem on this… CONGRATULATONS!GODBLESS!!!

    Comment by cristinah | January 25, 2008

  5. Erich, Georgetown College is a Baptist institution in Georgetown, KY near the capital, Frankfort. Georgetown University is a Roman Catholic institution (founded by Jesuits, the Society of Jesus) in the Georgetown suburb of Washington, D.C.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 25, 2008

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