American Baptist College Presidential Lecture Series Makes Bold Steps

The late Congressman John Lewis, left, and Rev. C.T. Vivian

NASHVILLE, TN — The inaugural American Baptist College Presidential Lecture Series provided in-depth discussion on two giants of the non-violent Movement of the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. Historian Jon Meacham discussed Congressman John Lewis from a historian’s perspective and from his book His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope and Theologian Dr. Riggins Earl presented information on  Rev. C.T. Vivian from the perspective of an ethicist and theologian.  

ABC President Dr. Forrest Harris, Sr., said, “This lecture series involved the legacies of graduates of American Baptist College, Congressman John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian and allowed us to reflect on how provincial it was that they came together, worked together and changed the world together.” 

The expertise of our lecturers was uncompromising and provided a wealth of information about these Civil Rights activists who were students of the non-violent movement,,” added Dr. Harris.

The lectures provided bold insights about the movement that involved Congressman Lewis and  Rev. Vivian, as well as their contempories in the struggle, such as Rev. Bernard Lafayette, Rev. Julius Scruggs, Rev. James Bevel and William Barbee, among others. Barbee, one of the unsung heroes of the movement, died when he returned to Nashville after being severely beaten in Montgomery/Birmingham during the Freedom Riders activities.  

Current times seemingly require reflection on those non-violent activities, as they spring hope to the soul, as some echoed about the series. 

Retired Metro Nashville official, Hershell Warren said, “I attended all three lectures and found them to be informative and enlightening. I particularly appreciated the discussion of these two Civil Rights giants from the perspective of a historian and an ethicist and theologian. These lecturers were a bold insightful statement for ABC.”

Jon Meacham, whose book on Congressman Lewis focuses on his life’s work in public service, was discerning in discussing this valiant human being.  Congressman Lewis was from Troy, Alabama, and came to American Baptist College at the age of 17. Lewis bragged of being arrested 45 times before his death, all for causes of justice for the unjust.

“Congressman Lewis was an extraordinary human being who cherished his education at ABC, and his years on ‘the Holy Hill,” said Meacham.

The discussion brought about a desire for making this nation better.

Avi Poster said, “This lecture series helped to reflect on what we have gotten wrong and what we can do to make it better. Through the wisdom of our wonderful lecturers, Jon Meacham and Dr. Riggins Earl, we were helped to understand the importance of dreaming and setting the bar high then work to activate those dreams for a better world.”

 These lectures were significant from a historical perspective. These presentations reignited a powerful flame on the relevance of these iconic figures to the current times and forecasted what could happen in  the future of social activism.

Earl provided vivid and relevant points about what shaped Rev. Vivian’s life at American Baptist College and how he continued to speak truth to power in his sermons and all his activities that focused on making the world better.

Earl stated, “Rev. Vivian was a bold agent of social change and continued to preach and teach throughout his life that giving voice to the people was essential for making a change in the world.”

In addition to the public lecture series, this activity was also a credit course for students. Associate Dean of Academics, Dr. Febbie Dickerson explained why this entire process was significant to students.

“At American Baptist College an aspect of the academic endeavor is to critically engage history and traditions in order to discover how we should progress towards the future. The Presidential Lecture Series featuring Meacham and Earl provided ABC students in the Leadership and Legacies course the opportunity to discuss the legacies of Congressman Lewis and the Rev. Vivian and their importance in the quest for social justice, equity, advocacy, and leadership,” said Dickerson.

The lives of Civil Rights icons, Congressman Lewis and the Rev. Vivian, recipients of the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is an invaluable resource to explore the 

Christian, and social justice ethic, as well as the moral character that shaped their leadership. On July 17, 2020, they both died, leaving leadership legacies of moral vision and exemplars of the Christian love-ethic and commitment to the method of non-violence for social change. For others to take the baton and race to the finish line.

“This three-part lecture series was a great exercise for our students and our various pubics to learn, be informed and be ignited to change the world.” said President Harris.