winter-spring 2013 / 25
n the late 60’s, BSC witnessed major changes when the first black
student, Ulysses Bennett, graduated from the college (see story
on facing page).
Around the 1970’s, another shift took place on the Hilltop
and in its surrounding community. The neighborhoods around
Birmingham-Southern began experiencing white flight and the
college, under BSC President Dr. Ralph Tanner, considered selling
its property to Miles College and moving to Shelby County. Trustee
Hugh Daniel, a prominent developer, was responsible for much of
the conversation. But some faculty firmly opposed the move, “…not
only because they didn’t want to see Birmingham lose this college,
they thought a move would essentially be a retreat from the role that
a college can serve in a community that essentially is in transition,”
Tanner said at the time.
College officials could have made the decision to flee, but instead
they chose to stay.
“The institution-transforming decision of the college in the
1970s to remain in its inner city neighborhood rather than flee to
greener—and whiter—pastures compelled BSC to grapple with the
sometimes harsh realities of late 20th century urban America,” says
Dr. Ed S. LaMonte, Howell Heflin Professor Emeritus of Political
Science. “We are a better institution for that decision; the city and
world is a better place because of the many significant contributions
made by students, faculty, and staff; and hundreds of students from
all academic areas have been the beneficiaries of the opportunities
offered in a major urban area.”
Under Dr. Neal Berte’s presidency, which began in 1976, BSC
developed a partnership with the city of Birmingham and Mayor
Richard Arrington (who later became the first African-American to
receive an honorary degree at BSC) to develop its north campus.
Soon civic and community engagement began to characterize the
BSC culture.
In the early 1980’s, the service-learning program began taking
formal shape under the leadership of Chaplain Dr. Stewart Jackson.
Jackson was a trendsetter who set up meaningful partnerships and
got involved in the community long-term, and the program became
a trademark of BSC and its United Methodist Church affiliation.
Today, BSC’s Bunting Center for Engaged Study and Community
Action, established in 2007, coordinates community service
opportunities with local agencies and schools and organizes yearly
service trips locally, nationally, and internationally. The college has
ongoing partnerships with local organizations, including Northstar
Ministries (see sidebar on page 34). Community service is also a part
of campus sororities and fraternities, honor societies, and faith-based
organizations on campus. Nearly 70 percent of students take part
in ongoing service-learning projects each year with area elementary
schools, regional housing efforts, disaster relief, and more.
“You can read about homelessness, healthcare issues, and racism,
but to experience the issues alongside people who are directly
affected by them is an amazing opportunity,” says Bunting Center
Director Kristin Harper ’92. “Where there is suffering and injustice in
the world, our college community can no longer be oblivious. We’re
developing students who understand why and how to serve.”
ifty years ago, all eyes were on this city, a symbol of
everything racist and backward. Today’s Birmingham,
however prides itself as a place of reconciliation, inclusion,
and diversity. It has become a roadmap to resilience,
achievement, and hope.
“We are not stepping away from the most horrific moments of our
history,” remarks Berte, who retired in 2004. “But Birmingham is
intentional in its commitment to change; the city is striving to create
a community where everyone can share their talents, realize their full
potential, and enjoy the quality of life available for all Americans.
We have demonstrated great progress in our community, but we
obviously still have additional work to do to realize the full dream of
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the founders of our country.”
The progress has indeed been remarkable.
Ulysses Bennett
Dr. Ralph M. Tanner
BSC President 1972-1976
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