winter-spring 2013 / 19
n the early ‘60s, Birmingham-Southern was still isolated on
its west Birmingham hilltop. The school had the same strong
academic reputation it does today, and, for the roughly 1,000
students on the all-white campus, life progressed pretty much as
normal. But, as with many southern campuses, BSC soon found
itself involved in a struggle that would take more than desegregation
to solve.
In 1963, with news of dynamite
bombings and sit-ins streaming
in, the campus community had to
confront the political, economic,
and social revolution occurring
just two miles from campus. As a
Methodist-affiliated college, BSC
emphasized moral commitment
as well as strong academics, and a
significant portion of the students
were preparing for ministry or
other full-time religious work. But
to many students, mostly young
men and women representing
Southern middle- to-upper-class
families, the battle beginning to
rage seemed distant or abstract.
“We were too absorbed in ourselves and our little world to ‘care’
about happenings in the surrounding community,” said Rev. Noel
Koestline ’66 in a 1997 interview with a BSC student.
Although some students wanted to end segregation, many were
either afraid or unwilling to challenge the social order—which the
college’s administration worked hard to enforce. In May of 1963,
Dean Cecil Abernethy ’30 warned the student body to follow the
college’s rules or face disciplinary action. In a speech to a special
convocation printed in
The Hilltop News
, Abernethy told students that
“as members of the institution, they must abide by its regulations
and obey the laws and injunctions of [the college] community.”
The movement found a foothold at BSC nonetheless.
Birmingham-Southern President Dr. Henry King Stanford, who took
office in 1958 with a promise to lift “our sights to national standards
of excellence,” was forced to face the fact that the college was located
in a city nicknamed “Bombingham”
and labeled the most segregated
city in the South. A Georgia native
and political scientist with a Ph.D.
from New York University, Stanford
was called in to meet with city
leaders, including Birmingham
Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull”
Connor, a staunch segregationist.
“Listen Doc, are you trying to
desegregate Birmingham-Southern
College?” Connor told Stanford
in that 1960 meeting. “If so, I am
going to tell the people of Alabama
so they won’t send their children
Connor’s main concern was
that Stanford punish any BSC
students agitating for social justice. That year, a number of
Birmingham-Southern students circulated and signed a petition
protesting Alabama Gov. John Patterson’s action in forcing Alabama
College—later renamed the University of Montevallo—to expel black
“Doc, aren’t there just a number of Yankee students out there who
are creating all of this agitation?” Connor inquired. Stanford replied
that most ’Southern students came from Alabama or the surrounding
states and that the petitions were not caused by Northern forces.
“Bull” Connor. Photo courtesy of
The Birmingham News.
Dr. Henry King Stanford
BSC President 1957-1962
Cecil Abernethy
BSC Dean of Students
1958 - 1964
1...,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20 22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,...68