By Rossi Turner
NASHVILLE, TN — William T. “Bill” Hill retired from the Federal Government as the first Black Chief Counsel for the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 2010. The TSU graduate’s roots run deep in North Nashville where he grew up in the projects. His academic background includes years at Saint Vincent School, Washington Jr. High School, Father Ryan School, Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt Law School and Saint Meinard School of Theology. The pursuit of higher education has often been heralded as a pathway to a better quality of life. “Deacon Bill”, as he is called at the St. Vincent Church believes this and has begun a scholarship fund in honor of Saint Katharine Drexel.
“Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” These profound words from Dr. King have been practiced by many people in many unsuspecting places at different times in Nashville, Tennessee history. Among them is a Catholic Saint named Katharine Drexel. This name is deeply connected with the Black Community of Nashville because her efforts as a Catholic nun gave rise to education for Blacks in Nashville.
Giving respect where respect is due, Saint Katharine Drexel is the second American born Saint recognized by the Catholic Church. She is the only Saint to walk the streets of Nashville. During her era she established schools for the most marginalized. She established 112 missions for Native Americans and 64 schools for Blacks. The most famous among them is Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
In relationship to Nashville Saint Katharine Drexel built three schools starting as early as 1905 with the Immaculate Mother Academy, Holy Family and in 1932 the Saint Vincent de Paul School. This vision of building a school for Blacks pre dated the1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education decision.
Saint Katharine Drexel’s efforts were challenged by the white community. In 1905 the white community sought to block the building of the school by these measures, rescinding the sale of the land, outlawing the education of Blacks, condemning the property and running a railroad through the land. Saint Katharine Drexel’s concession was to only educate females. The education of males began in 1917.
Fast forward to the period of 1954 when Deacon Bill became a student at Saint Vincent.
Bill Hill says, “Saint Vincent was a school for anyone who wanted to come. It was not just for Black Catholics. The children of prominent black doctors and lawyers were there alongside children of numbers runners and kids from the projects like me. Katharine Drexel did not want the School to be just for Catholics or for the elite. ”
Deacon Bill, with his wife Dr. Etheleen Hill, Professor/Associate Dean at Meharry Medical College, his Father Ryan football teammate Paul Rohling, and classmate Harry Guess have initiated the Katharine Drexel Scholarship Endowment. The endowment goal is $150,000. This will support Black students which continues the legacy of Katharine Drexel to educate Blacks have the desire to attend Father Ryan High School. We have collected $79,000 so far.
Deacon Bill notes, “During that time the Kinship Center operated during the week to provide tutorial and recreational services for the kids in the community. Some of those who read this article will remember that their first social outing was a dance at Saint Vincent School.” The Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) sponsored dances and basketball on the weekends. I’m sure people are feeling a rush of memories because this was a safe place for young people of all grade levels to socialize regardless of religious affiliation.”
Please contact Deacon Hill at 615-496-5797 or e-mail [email protected] Make Tax deductible contributions to Father Ryan High School Att: Katharine Drexel Scholarship.
Please mail to Father Ryan High School, 770 Norwood Drive, Nashville, TN 37204 Att: Brooke Ruesch.