Dear Berea Friends:
As president of Berea College and a citizen of the Berea community, I am writing to share my shock and concern about the recent racially motivated vandalism targeting an interracial couple in Berea. How ironic that a town founded on interracial principles over 150 years ago still has to battle the age-old human tendency to fear or even hate those different from ourselves.
The town of Berea, and later the Berea schools, was founded on the fundamental principle of human equality based on an inclusive understanding of the “cause of Christ.” The founder of Berea’s Union Church, community, and schools, John G. Fee, was inspired by the Biblical gospel of “impartial love.” Berea College’s motto came directly from Paul’s sermon to the Athenians in Acts 17:26, asserting that “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” This primary Biblical principle led the whole Berea community to welcome men and women, black and white, to study together, work together, and live together in pre-Civil War Kentucky in 1855.
A core principle of the early Berea community was “interspersion” by which white and black families lived side by side. In addition to the interracial founding of the town, the Berea College trustees passed a resolution permitting interracial dating on its campus in the 1880’s. While this policy was later rescinded for a period of time, it is remarkable that the Berea founders understood and applied this logic of inclusion more than one hundred years ago in spite of the real and immanent personal risks of taking such a stand. Hence, the very origin of our Berea community is fundamentally Christian and inclusive of all peoples.
Tragically, with the recent acts of irrational prejudice toward an interracial couple, we find ourselves more than 150 years later facing the same challenge of defending Berea’s historical premise of equality. This incident not only represents a misunderstanding of human equality but is also counter to the Christian doctrine and history that founded Berea’s town and its educational institutions. The logic of God’s inclusive love really does include all people, and both this incident and the most recent efforts to articulate and apply fairness for all members of our community illustrate the serious need to reaffirm what the good people of Berea have understood and supported throughout our community’s history.
Several community efforts are underway to assist the couple both financially and personally in coping with this ill-spirited attack. I urge all citizens of Berea to offer their support to them directly through one of these means as well as through a more general spirit of advocacy and equality that we have all inherited as residents of this community. Berea College will certainly be a partner in such support.
- Larry D. Shinn
President of Berea College