DeLaris Johnson Risher

It’s Always a Time for Radical Change

The educational training for women to lead as Christian workers began over 90 years ago at the Scarritt Bible and Training School in Kansas City, Missouri and then moved to Nashville in 1924 as Scarritt College for Christian Workers.  

The Scarritt Bennet Center makes yet another bold step in its history. The Center will honor the two Black women who integrated the predominantly white institution Scarritt College for Christian Workers, that at the time was admitting international students, but not African Americans – in 1952. The recognition takes place as part of the naming of the DeLaris Johnson Risher and Lelia Robinson Dabbs house, to be officially named, The Johnson Robinson House.

Lelia Robinson Dabbs

The theme for this significant occasion is “It’s Always a Time for Radical Change” which brings this historic act to life. 

The event will take place Saturday, April 2, 2022, at 12 noon, on the campus of the Scarritt Bennett Center at 1003 18th Avenue South, Nashville, TN.  The official ribbon cutting will be led by Ms. Johnson Risher, and the public is invited to attend.

 “It was 70 years ago these two young Black women together made history.  Ms. Risher, from Orangeburg South Carolina and Ms. Dabbs, from Austin, TX quietly and boldly made a radical change in Methodism and higher education throughout the nation,” said Rev. Sondrea Tolbert, executive director of the Scarritt Bennet Center.  “This is a time in the history of the Scarritt Bennet Center and the whole of Nashville to witness this historic occasion by dedicating this house on campus named in their honor for service to humanity and acknowledging they risked their lives in crossing the color line,” she added.

The 92 years young Johnson Risher will be at the dedication as the Center salutes both women Ms. Robinson died in 2002 at the age of 72. Family members of Ms. Dabbs are scheduled to attend. The Johnson Robinson House was renovated by Kyle Blue Development a female minority construction company.

Both Mrs. DeLaris Johnson Risher and Mrs. Lelia Robinson Dabbs went on to become Deaconesses in their respective Methodist conferences. Mrs. Delaris Johnson Risher was licensed in 1955 as the first African American deaconess at the Navajo New Mexico Conference. Mrs. Lelia Robinson Dabbs was president of the Central Jurisdiction Deaconess Association for 15 years.

The Center staff, along with its national Board of Directors are pleased to honor these brave women.  Furthermore, The Johnson Robinson House dedication will kick off a year-long celebration of the 70th Anniversary of Scarritt College’s Integration. There will be a multiplicity of activities to keep their legacy in the forefront of the College’s history and as well as the city of Nashville, and a campaign to raise funds for continued work by Scarritt Bennett Center in the areas of women’s empowerment and racial justice.    

The brave act of these women had its foundation, in part by a professor at the College, who also taught at Fisk University, Dr. Ina Corrine Brown. In her letter to the Board, she stated, it is time, “In the light of these considerations the faculty of Scarritt College believes that the time as come when it is not only appropriate but obligatory that we actively seek a solution to the problem posed by State laws which now make mandatory on our campus a practice which is out of harmony with the mission entrusted to us by the church. The mandate of Christian conscience no longer permits us to say that we can do nothing about racial exclusion on our campus until the State amend s the Constitution.  It is our conviction that we should either seek a new interpretation of the law as it affects church-related institutions or act through educational and legal channels to change the law.”

The era of the Scarritt College integration, was ahead of the non-violent movement of the Civil Rights area of the 1960s and the Jim Crow laws were in effect.  Scarritt was admitting students of color that were foreign and leaders from Africa, Latin America, and Asian sent from the Methodist mission fields to prepare for lives of service.  Their presence tested the limits of the local power structure’s forbearance; however, admitting Black Americans went over the edge!  Segregation was being heavily enforced to the extent of not just imprisonment, but the lynching of African Americans had occurred in Tennessee only a decade before.  It had not been very long since the KKK had a public office on what is now Music Row near today’s Musica Statue in the Buddy Killen Roundabout. 

For more information, contact Jenean Davis, Development and Marketing Director, at or 615.340.742


Scarritt Bennett Center is a nonprofit conference, retreat, and education center in Nashville, TN. Its mission is to create space where individuals and groups engage each other to achieve a more just world. A property of the United Methodist Women, Scarritt Bennett Center’s campus is formerly home to United Methodist-related Scarritt College for Christian Workers (1924-1980) and Scarritt Graduate School (1981-1988). Today,