Monthly Archives: May 2017

Organizing for Racial Justice, 1960s and Today: A conference recap

The public-facing work of #LoveInAction:Voices in Social Justice culminated on May 3rd with a one-day conference held in Union Theological Seminary’s Social Hall, “Organizing for Racial Justice, 1960s and Today.”  The conference, an inter-school (Columbia and Union), inter-departmental (the Burke Library, the student fellows, Union alumni/ae, the Office of Alumni/ae Relations, and the Office of Student Affairs), inter-generational collaboration (I believe the ages of those involved with the planning ranged from 20 to 90!), featured Union alum that were involved in the Student Interracial Ministry in dialogue with current Union students and faculty.  Consisting of four panels, the day’s events were so rich, so charged with energy, that now upon reflection two weeks later, my words seem lacking in comparison.  Luckily for us, all of the panels were taped and will be available soon!

Flyer for “Organizing For Racial Justice, 1960s and Today.”

The conference started off by a welcome and general introduction by yours truly.  I made sure to scoot off the scene quickly so Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. (’62) and storäe michele (class of 2017) could open  the conference.  Each read powerful poems they had written at different points in their lives.  The poem Dr. Forbes shared was written shortly after the legal integration of lunch counters in the South, where he had suffered an unfair and unjust encounter.  storäe read a powerful poem she had written in response.  The second panel, “Setting the Context: Racism and Student Activist in the 1960s,” was led by Dr. David Cline, author of From Reconciliation to Revolution: The Student Interracial Ministry, Liberal Christianity, and the Civil Rights Movement, 1960 to 1970, who gave a brief history of the Student Interracial Ministry.  After which Rev. George D. McClain (’64), Rev. Charles M. Sherrod (’66), Petra Thombs (M.Div. candidate), Benjamin Van Dyne (class of 2017), and Virginia Wadsley (’67) gave their responses.  All focused on their own personal experiences, for Rev. Sherrod, Rev. McClain, and Wadlsey these centered around their involvement with SIM.  Thombs and Van Dyne offered a critical lens from their own personal experiences at and around Union.

Rev. Dr. Douglas during her presentation, “White Supremacy in the Age of Trump.”

The afternoon sessions were started off with a talk by Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas (’82) based on her book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, “White Supremacy in the Age of Trump.”  Union student and #LoveInAction fellow, Tabatha Holley (M.Div. candidate) and Director of Alumni/ae Relations, Dr. Marvin M. Ellison (’81) co-moderatored the session, with Dr. Ellison introducing Dr. Douglas.  After Dr. Douglas’ talk, Holley asked some questions to get the conversation started.  Last but certainly not least was the final panel of the day, “White Supremacy and Student Activism Today,” which featured a mix of current Union students and professors including, Associate Professor of Ecumenical Studies, Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung (’87); Jessica Halperin (M.Div. candidate); Yazmine Nichols (class of 2017); Kaio Thompson (class of 2017); Assistant Professor of Homiletics, Dr. Lisa L. Thompson; and Wesley Morris (class of 2017). The panel was introduced by one of the SIM founders, John Collins (’61), and the questions moderated by #LoveInAction fellow, Kristine Chong (MA candidate). Each panelist gave extremely poignant and personal stories about where they were coming from with regard to social activism, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Shirley M. Sherrod speaking at the Union Medal ceremony, James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary, May 3, 2017.

The conference was followed by a Union Medal ceremony that honored Rev. Charles M. Sherrod (’66) and Shirley M. Sherrod for their lifetime of work for racial justice in Southwest Georgia.  As with the entire day, the ceremony is hard to justly give summary to.  Opening with the remarkable documentary about the Sherrod’s tireless efforts, Arc of Justice: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of a Beloved Community, the Sherrods were individually presented with the Union Medal.

 

 

 

 

 

Stay turned for more blog posts about the various components of #LoveInAction: Voices In Social Justice!

Meeting “Pit”: Processing the Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers

N.B.: The Burke Archives had the good fortune of inviting Olivia Rutigliano to be our Intern in Primary Sources for the 2016-2017 year. During this time, she has processed the papers of Henry Pitney Van Dusen, one of Union’s most well-known presidents. Read below to learn about Olivia’s first experience processing a large archival collection, Union’s history, and Van Dusen’s legacy.

In my capacity as Columbia’s Primary Source Intern for the 2016-2017 academic year, I have been working at Burke Library, processing an exhaustive collection of documents once belonging to Henry Pitney Van Dusen (1897-1975), who served as president of Union Theological Seminary from 1945-1963. The wide-ranging collection includes material concerning his teaching and academic responsibilities, his many book and article projects, his ministry and outreach, and his work for various international and domestic ecumenical committees and conferences, as well as his personal correspondence, and other materials or publications relating to his life as a public intellectual.

Portrait of HPVD. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

In short, it is a huge collection. In fact, before the collection had begun being processed, it took 72 banker’s boxes to hold the entire thing. Throughout the fall and spring semesters, my chief responsibilities principally included sorting through these boxes — organizing and classifying this large volume of materials within various definitive categories, removing them from packaging that might be chemically or physically hazardous to their preservation, locating dates and other identifying information for the contents, and producing a clear and intuitive Finding Aid, to help future researchers navigate the collection with ease.

Now, after nearly all the materials have been organized and sorted into (smaller, sleeker, and clearly delineated) manuscript boxes, we estimate that the collection physically spans around 100 linear feet (archival collections are measured the total width of every box in the collection). The collection contains letters, memos, sermons, lectures, photographs, magazines, pamphlets, programs, index and business cards, and entire book manuscripts, as well as countless drafts of both chapters and individual essays. It also contains several children’s illustrations completed in crayon on construction paper (likely made by Van Dusen’s children), messages from such longtime pals as John Foster Dulles (who filed a legal brief on his behalf, arguing that Van Dusen, who caused an outcry by admitting that he did not believe that Christ was literally born of a virgin, should not have his his minister’s ordination questioned by the Presbyterian General Assembly), and several copies of the 1954 Time, with Van Dusen as the magazine’s cover story.

A letter from Eleanor Roosevelet to HPVD. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, Series 8, Box 15, Folder 1. The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York

A PhD student in Columbia’s English and Theatre departments, specializing in Victorian entertainment, I barely had any exposure to Van Dusen’s prolific and distinguished career prior to processing his papers. As I began to read and sort through his documents, I learned about the depth of his various worlds, and the impact of his tremendous influence. Indeed, Van Dusen was a prominent thinker and sought-after academic, whose expertise and engagement was vast — spanning very many contemporary issues. I processed many files of sermons and articles directly addressing contemporary theological and socio-political debates, as well as his own personal ruminations on ethical matters. He was the engineer behind many massive organizations of which I had heard, such as the World Council of Churches. He was also, I learned, an entrenched New Yorker — a descendant of one of New York City’s oldest families, who had been here since it inhabited a few hundred people and was called New Amsterdam. (Personally, I can claim three generations of family in the city — he could claim ten.) The Van Dusen family has, in its family tree, U.S. Presidents Martin Van Buren and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as, I just found out, the Brooklyn-based clothing designer Dusen Dusen.

Letter from John Masefield on the birth of John George Van Dusen. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, Series 8, Box 2, Folder 1. The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting two members of the Van Dusen family, Hugh, Van Dusen’s second son, and Hans, his grandson. They stopped by Burke to check out the collection, and I was delighted to show them a few items from it: birth announcements, letters of congratulations (including from UK poet laureate John Masefield) and a baby photo of Van Dusen’s oldest son, John George, as well as (a personal favorite of mine) a series of letters exchanged between Van Dusen and Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1954, through which Roosevelt enlisted Van Dusen’s help to work the Membership Drive Committee for the American Association for the United Nations. 

It was wonderful to meet Van Dusen’s family, who were excited to look at the documents and glad to chat about them; spending weeks upon weeks organizing and filing his material legacy, it was both lovely and uncanny to meet the people who had known him the best, during the life that he had documented so well.