Racist history deserves attention

A women’s intramural basketball team named the Ku-Klux Klan donned robes in the 1909 edition of the Round Up yearbook. As the Baylor library staff started digitizing old Round Up editions in 2010, they decided to include all images like this one in an effort to provide access without censorship. Since then, President Linda Livingstone has denounced these images in a 2019 Presidential Perspective. Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

Baylor announced in June its intention to require diversity training for its entire student body, faculty and staff on an annual basis starting this fall. No amount of training could ever teach a student like a professor does in a classroom, so let’s go a step further: require a graded course on minority history and race relations for all students.

Per Baylor Institutional Research and Testing, the Baylor undergraduate population is 61% white. The average cost each student faces per year at Baylor is $36,702. According to Census data, that’s 89% of the average Black family’s income in 2017 and 73% of the average Hispanic family’s. It’s only 54% of a white family’s average income. Now why do you think that is?

Racial injustice in America has a long, long history, and our adopted hometown is not near innocent. Baylor, and Waco specifically, have played a large part in that horrific timeline.

Judge Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, one of the founders of the university and whose statue you can find on campus, owned at least 20 slaves by the Civil War and punished an abolitionist for harboring a fugitive slave.

Baylor University had only resided in Waco for 30 years when Jesse Washington was brutally lynched outside the City Hall on the corner of Washington and 5th. The Waco Times-Herald reported over 10,000 people in the crowd that day cheered on the murder of a Black man.

Washington wasn’t the only one. Sank Majors was hanged on the Washington Street steel bridge by 2,000 locals, according to the Houston Post. Between 1885 and 1922, four other Black men (Sim Woods, Sam Henderson, “Curly” Hackney and Jesse Thomas) were lynched in Waco.

The Ku Klux Klan also had major influence in the town throughout the early 20th century. The Klan recruited pastors from the area to increase membership, harassed Catholic and Jewish business owners and prohibited members from shopping at non-Klan-approved sites.

In 1921, the Lorena Riot, which featured 4,000 spectators at a Klan parade, turned public opinion further in the racist organization’s direction. McLennan Country Sheriff Bob Buchanan attempted to shut down a planned parade and was shot at in the process. He brandished a knife and stabbed five Klan members, killing one, after being shot himself in the right arm.

After the sheriff was indicted, the KKK ticket proved victorious in local elections in 1922 as county sheriff and county attorney were filled by Klansmen.

At Baylor, a women’s intramural basketball team named the Ku-Klux Klan donned robes in its 1909 yearbook photo. As late as 1965, a year after the first Black students enrolled at Baylor, a fraternity used blackface at All-University Sing.

The fact that these photos are publicly available on Baylor’s website isn’t an oversight; it’s a recognition of Baylor’s past, and the university has vehemently apologized for it.

But this stuff had to be dug up. People don’t learn about lynchings and race riots like they learn about how victorious America was in the Revolution. Go around Waco and ask white people if they know the name Jesse Washington. There probably aren’t many who do.

That’s why there should be a true class. Graded. With a professor. Over an entire semester. And what’s the downside to making it required for all incoming freshmen going forward?

The best thing about this potential course is stacking it with Christian Scriptures and Christian Heritage to teach how Christian theology evolved over the years. From the crusades to slave ships to the Civil War and all the injustices that have come out of the system of racism America has ingrained, you can’t tear it down without learning the problem.

Teach students about how Christian theology accepted and justified slavery and evolved to lead the abolitionist movement. Teach students about how Black men and women were excluded from voting after the 15th and 19th amendments. Teach students about how America’s past influences its citizens’ actions today and how voter suppression continues to be an issue.

The biggest issue is finding the right professors to teach this class. They have to be knowledgeable in both the religion departments and history departments, and they have to be thoughtful enough to provide nuance and depth to a subject that is more controversial than most students will learn about in their college careers.

Baylor’s students should be learning about its history and the country’s without a prideful influence. They should be learning about the history that minorities have experienced in this country — from the Tulsa Race Massacre, which was just added to history books in Oklahoma thanks to HBO’s “Watchmen,” to the Japanese American internment camps — a practice far more harsh than the treatment German-Americans received during World War II — to the lynchings that happened to mostly Black men across the country and right in our backyard.