NASHVILLE, TN — The kick-off of the recognition of the two women who integrated Scarritt College for Christian Women, DeLaris Johnson Risher and Lelia Robinson Dabbs house, is the beginning of a year-long campaign to bring to light their quiet, yet radical movement. 

The first recognition will be the official naming of The Johnson Robinson House on the Scarritt Bennett Center campus. Themed “It’s Always a Time for Radical Change,” the event takes 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 relatives of Ms. Robinson Dabbs. The public is invited to attend.

Ms. Johnson, a proud woman in her 90’s is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the Nashville chapters will hold a special celebration in her honor during the weekend festivities.

Known now as the Scarritt Bennett Center, the educational training for women institution moved to Nashville in 1924 and was named Scarritt College for Christian Workers, its origination was in Kansas City, Missouri as the Scarritt Bible and Training School more than 90 years ago.

 “It has been a wonderful opportunity to research the storied history of the College and continue to discover all its golden treasures.  These two women, who dared to stand up for women of color 70 years ago richly blessed the history of this institution,” said Rev. Sondrea Tolbert, Executive Director of the Scarritt Bennett Center.

Ms. Risher, came to Nashville from Orangeburg South Carolina and Ms. Dabbs, from Austin, Texas. Both ladies 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 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 has 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.

The year-long campaign will feature a plethora of activities to keep their legacy in the forefront of the College’s history, as well as the city of Nashville, and throughout Methodism and the world.  This fund-raising campaign will make it possible to continue the work by the Scarritt Bennett Center in the areas of women’s empowerment and racial justice.    

For more information, contact Jenean Davis, Development and Marketing Director, at or 615-340-742

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