[Episcopal News Service] The School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, announced April 13 that it is changing the name of its annual DuBose Lectures, citing the pro-slavery views of the lectures’ namesake originator, William Porcher DuBose. They now will be known as the Alumni Lectures.
DuBose, born in South Carolina in 1836, served as a chaplain in the Confederate Army before becoming a theology professor at Sewanee in 1871. He was appointed dean of the School of Theology in 1894. The DuBose family had owned more than 200 slaves before the Civil War, the Episcopal seminary said in its news release, and long after slavery was abolished, DuBose continued to defend the institution that had oppressed Black Americans as “not a sin” and historically beneficial for both slave and owner.
The Episcopal Church honors DuBose with his own feast day, on Aug. 18, and the School of Theology has presented its lectures in his name for 97 years. On April 7, faculty members’ extended discussions over the name culminated in their vote to drop DuBose from the series.
“Theology always arises in a context. Even if DuBose’s theology retains an international reputation, his writings on this region and on race bear witness to his context,” the Rev. Benjamin King, a School of Theology professor, said in the news release. King also serves on the university’s Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation. “DuBose is not the name that best represents our context and what the School of Theology and our alumni have to offer the 21st-century church.”
The decision to distance the school from the racist views of one of its early professors comes amid rising tensions at the Episcopal university, which was founded in 1857 initially to serve the South’s white, slaveholding class. Last year, vandals launched nighttime attacks on the campus home of Reuben E. Brigety II, the university’s first Black vice-chancellor. More recently, university officials condemned an incident at lacrosse match in March in which Sewanee students reportedly shouted racist slurs at an opposing team.
The March incident sparked large, student-led protests and rallies against racism on the campus. The university remains mostly white – 82% of students – despite its attempts to recruit more students of color.
The University of the South, commonly known as Sewanee, is owned and governed by 28 Episcopal dioceses in the Southeast. It launched the Roberson Project in 2017 to research the university’s history of complicity with systems of racial oppression, from the school’s roots in slaveholding society to its continued adherence to racial segregation through the first half of the 20th century.
The Sewanee Board of Regents cited the project’s research when it declared in a September 2020 statement that the university “rejects its past veneration of the Confederacy” and commits to “an urgent process of institutional reckoning.” Brigety, in a parallel letter, outlined several initiatives that the Sewanee administration would take to demonstrate its commitment to equality and inclusion while confronting the university’s past.
The lectures that had been named for DuBose were modeled on four lectures and a sermon that the professor delivered in 1911 to celebrate his 40th year at the university. The School of Theology said DuBose’s lectures had focused on his life and theology, but he also was quoted often as an apologist for slavery.
“The South received and exercised slavery in good faith and without doubt or question, whatever we pronounce it now, it was not a sin at that time to those people,” DuBose said in one example included in the school’s news release. It also notes that DuBose praised the racist Ku Klux Klan as “an inspiration of genius.”
Recent DuBose Lectures have focused on racial reconciliation, the School of Theology said, and for the newly renamed Alumni Lectures, the school will welcome a presentation by Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows on the “Language of Dismantling White Supremacy” and a lecture by West Tennessee Bishop Phoebe Roaf titled “Addressing Racial Reconciliation in Different Contexts.” The Alumni Lectures are scheduled as part of Sewanee’s homecoming celebrations, on Sept. 28-30.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.