My answers below are a broader version concerning the plaque posted in the lobby of Broadus Chapel in remembrance of the enslaved whose exploitation of their labor funded the early years of Southern Baptist Seminary.
The questions are from Andy Wolfson, a longtime reporter in Louisville at the Courier Journal. My answers address the plaque and a discussion in Word & Way of whether Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has fulfilled its pledge to erect a “major marker” on the campus which acknowledges the sin of American slavery and the contributions made to the seminary by enslaved Black people.
Q: I am trying to see if you think the plaque hung in the lobby of Broadus Chapel is a “major marker?”
No. I am grateful that Dr. Mohler kept his word by acknowledging the role of the enslaved and their financial and labor contribution dedicated to the formation and founding of Southern Seminary; but I do not consider the plaque as a “major marker.”
Q: Do you agree with President Mohler’s contention that it is located in a “prominent” location?
I think the most important point is the spiritual meaning of what the plaque represents. To focus on whether it is in a prominent location, or whether or not it’s a major marker, misses the larger point. In as much as I have not seen the location, only a picture, I do not know how to answer that question; but I must admit that I was hopeful and searched for a memorial so prominent and visible that I could not have missed it. In my mind, I pictured an outdoor, highly visible memorial that could not be overlooked. No one told me that. It was simply what I had hoped for. I promised to make a generous donation for the erection of the memorial. I was not personally notified, nor did I read any public notice that the plaque had been erected.
I was in Louisville for another meeting; and I read a tweet from Alan Cross referencing the slavery history at Southern Seminary. It triggered my memory to go and see if a memorial was actually there. I made a quick, hurried visit to a couple of buildings on campus; did not see it; and I looked outside on the lawn and still did not see it. I assumed one had not been erected; but if I can be honest, I fulfilled my commitment to make a donation by sending Southern Seminary a $2000 donation which was my estimate that should at least cover the cost to erect the plaque. A more expansive and expensive memorial would have required a larger donation. So, the size of the memorial saved me money.
Q: Do you think it makes up for SBTS’s decision not to remove the names of its slaveholding founders from its buildings?
It definitely does not accomplish that goal; but it does acknowledge that African Americans played a significant financial and functional role in the development of the initial buildings in the original Southern Seminary Louisville location. In the 60’s, Martin Luther King spoke in chapel at the seminary that his ancestors played a significant role in forming. Their contribution is now totally recognized. That is important.
Q: Do you find it galling that the plaque was placed in one of the buildings named for a slaveholding founder?
I do not find it “galling” that the plaque was placed in one of the buildings named for a slaveholding founder. It is what it is! The fact the slaves are officially acknowledged as making a significant contribution to me is far more important than the fact the plaque is located in a building named after a slave master.
I understand that the descendants of the slave masters do not have that inner drive to act in the ultimate realm of spirituality by removing the names of the slave masters from the building. I recognize they just can’t do it. It requires a deep level of maturity and social reckoning to do so. If the founders were abortion advocates, they would have no hesitancy in removing their names. Most Southern Baptists do not equate the evil of slavery, with the evil of abortion, but they are wrong.
Q: Did you take up President Mohler’s invitation to return to campus to look at the plaque? If so, what did you think of it?
I have not taken up President Mohler’s invitation to return to campus to look at the plaque. I suppose maybe I would if he extended that invitation again, solely to pay respect to the enslaved powerful and positive legacy in the foundation and formation of the school which only this year has been formally recognized. Taking a few moments to do that would be significant to me. I regret that Southern Seminary has not acknowledged the plague in a significant way up to this point, by calling attention to its existence.
Perhaps, I would be willing to stand side-by-side with Dr. Mohler to formally acknowledge the vital and sacrificial role of the enslaved and their contribution to the school.
Q: Do you still think the names of the slaveholding founders should be removed from the buildings on campus?
Yes. I still think the names of the slaveholding founders should be removed from the buildings on campus.
Q: Why do you think SBTS and Dr. Mohler have declined to do that?
Again, I just do not think they have the inner, moral wherewithal to make the decision to remove the names of the slave masters. They obviously value the slave masters more than they did the enslaved; and they are not willing to admit the magnitude in which they were wrong and to deny the fruit of repentance by removing the names of these slave masters.