Bellarmine in the Vanguard
Remarks in Observance of Martin Luther King Day
Good morning! And thank you for participating in the
observance of Martin Luther King Day at Bellarmine University.
The first sentence in this university’s mission
statement says that Bellarmine University is concerned with “Educating
talented diverse students of many faiths, ages, nations and cultures
with respect for each individual’s intrinsic value and dignity.”
This is a good day for all of us in the Bellarmine
campus community to reflect on how our society was, and how it is, with
respect to this core value in our mission statement.
It’s a good day to reflect not only on the life and work
of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also on the history of this
institution of ours, Bellarmine University, in the context of ethical
awareness in general and the struggle for racial equality in particular.
Bellarmine University’s historic place in the vanguard
of the Civil Rights Movement – including its shared history with Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr. – is important for all of us to know and to
Our present and our future in this context are
In the first place, Bellarmine opened its doors to
African-American students in 1950 -- the very same year it opened its
doors to anyone at all.
The year Bellarmine opened was also the year that state
law was amended to make interracial education legal – not legally
required, mind you, but legally allowed.
The 1904 Day Law prohibited blacks and whites from being
educated together in public or private school at any level.
In 1950, an amendment to that law allowed blacks to
attend colleges that offered courses not available at the all-black
Kentucky State College for Negroes in Frankfort.
That year, three African-American students were among
the 112 students who entered the new Bellarmine College.
Fr. Horrigan, the founding president of Bellarmine,
along with the presidents of Nazareth (now Spalding) and Ursuline
colleges, announced in The Courier-Journal that blacks would be accepted
in all their classes. They added:
“The doctrines of the Fatherhood of God and the
consequent brotherhood of all men must be given unqualified expression
in these days of universal crisis if the values we cherish are to remain
a significant factor in the world of affairs. We also wish to affirm
our faith in the principle of Christian social philosophy that all human
rights derive from man’s spiritual nature and his supernatural destiny
as a child of God. When the right to intellectual and spiritual
development which is the proper concern of higher education is curtailed
by the physical accident of race, there is implicit in such curtailment
a materialistic philosophy of life which is intolerable in a Christian
and democratic society.”
So please know and remember this: Your University’s
leadership and its values in this context have been courageous and
authentic from the very beginning.
The year those words appeared in the newspaper,
Louisville was a thoroughly segregated city.
- Public Parks were segregated.
- Public Transportation was segregated
- Theaters, restaurants, stores, swimming pools – even
water fountains -- were segregated.
In fact, a decade later, in 1960, they were STILL
segregated – and a proposed city ordinance that year to open public
accommodations to all human beings regardless of skin color … was
defeated by the board of alderman … by a vote of eleven to one!
It was not until 1961 -- when Martin Luther King Jr.
arrived in the city, on a day after more than 50 sit-ins were staged at
downtown businesses -- that the civil rights movement got fully and
powerfully under way in Louisville.
A large advertisement appeared in the Louisville Times
then, headed FOR INTEGRATION. The ad called for “the immediate
desegregation of public accommodations.” The Bellarmine College Faculty
Association and the Bellarmine College Student Government were among the
signers and sponsors of that advertisement.
In 1962, Fr. Horrigan told the Louisville Rotary Club,
“We can no longer tolerate the exclusion of any American, regardless of
the color of his skin, from full and unhampered participation in the
economic, political and educational life of our country.”
In 1964, King led a march on the state capital– and
Bellarmine faculty and students marched with him.
Also that year, 35 Bellarmine faculty members signed a
letter to Kentucky’s congressional delegation urging them to support the
federal civil rights bill. And three Bellarmine students were with a
Bellarmine philosophy professor in Mississippi renovating community
centers for blacks and encouraging them to vote.
In 1965 the mayor of Louisville, Bill Cowger, appointed
Fr. Horrigan chairman of the Louisville Commission on Human Rights. And
Fr. Loftus joined about 50 other Louisvillians for the final two days of
the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. The Rev. C.T. Vivian,
one of the organizers of that march, spoke on our campus.
And in 1966 the Kentucky Civil Rights Act was finally
That was 16 years AFTER three African-American students
were among the 112 students who entered the new Bellarmine College in
And it was 11 years AFTER Bellarmine University hired a
black Baptist chemistry professor, Dr. Henry S. Wilson, who was to
become the university’s first full professor before his retirement in
Bellarmine’s commitment to issues of diversity, of
course, has continued, and here are some of the milestones that have
marked the years:
In 1969, the Thomas Merton Center was established, with
Merton’s close friend, John Howard Griffin, author of Black Like Me, as
speaker. (And speaking of Merton on King Day, it is interesting to note
that at the time of King’s assassination in 1968, he was planning to
make a retreat with Merton at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey. Merton’s own
death came eight months after King’s. Both men wrote and spoke of
equality, peace, the dignity of each individual and the interrelatedness
of all people and things.)
In 1979, the Bellarmine Medal was presented to the Rev.
Jesse Jackson, a former aide to Martin Luther King and the founder of
PUSH for excellence.
In 1989, the Student Association for Equality was
formed, inheriting the place that Bellarmine’s Black Student Union had
held from 1969 into the 1980s.
In 1993, the Bellarmine Medal was awarded posthumously
to tennis professional Arthur Ashe. His widow, Jeanne Moutoussay Ashe,
accepted it on his behalf.
In 1994 UMOJA (now UNITE), a student group that promotes
multiculturalism, brought Julian Bond to speak during Black History
We have had the African-American Read-In Chain, started
by Dr. Celeste Nichols in 1994, in which we read works by or about
minorities. Look for that during Black History Month in a couple of
Last semester students created a new Black Student Union
to promote African-American tradition, history and culture on campus.
And we have Students for Social Justice, who are
focusing this semester on the tragic crisis in Darfur.
And also, on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. in Frazier Hall, Dr.
Vincent Harding, a friend and associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
will deliver a lecture entitled “Thomas Merton and the Tragedy and the
Hope of America.”
Every year we host the Lincoln Foundation’s Whitney M.
Young Scholars Program, which brings 150 disadvantaged, predominately
African American 7th graders to campus for an intensive week of
Our commitment to all Whitney M. Young Scholars is that
we will cover their full tuition if they want to come here.
We also are a major sponsor of the WHAS Kids Fulfilling
the Dream scholarship program, which will go to 10 disadvantaged high
school students in Louisville this year.
And we offer three full-tuition Black Achievers
Even with all of this activity, let’s pause here to just
say out loud that our campus is not nearly as diverse as we want it to
be, and we are still working on that.
Last year, I announced Vision 2020, which envisions
Bellarmine becoming the premier independent Catholic university in the
South, and thereby the leading private institution in this state and
Enrollment at Bellarmine will triple over the next 15
years -- and significant growth in the diversity of our campus,
students, faculty and staff, is a key part of that plan.
Also last year I was very privileged to announce that
our Bellarmine alumna and now Trustee, Angela Mason – an
African-American woman who was a distinguished member of the Bellarmine
class of ’80, and who was herself a scholarship student here – had
donated $2 million to Bellarmine to endow the James and Norma Mason
Her gift will provide full tuition for two academically
talented students who demonstrate financial need.
That brings us right up to Today.
As we reflect on King’s life and work, and on
Bellarmine’s history, let’s also reflect on our own individual attitudes
and behaviors toward each other.
Remember the words from Bellarmine’s mission statement,
about “respect for each individual’s intrinsic value and dignity.”
Remember the Catholic college presidents’ public
statement in 1950 about “the proper concern of higher education.”
And before the end of the day, log onto a computer and
Google, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- quotations.”
Read through a few pages of them.
And then e-mail to me the quotation that grabbed you the
most, and tell me why.
That would be interesting and thought provoking for both
Thank you, and have a great and thoughtful day!