NOTE — Originally, this blog was written to explore (what I still perceive to be) the subtle racial bias that still exists at my old school, Bob Jones University, via their stance on music. Yes, music. The last vestiges of racial bias are not found in dating rules or sports “white outs,” but in the BJU music standards.
In spite of what you may think, this blog is not an attack on Bob Jones University, the Jones family or any employee of the University. What I am trying to do is shine an unprejudiced light on the university’s past and (hopefully) demonstrate how some of what the university still upholds (and preaches) as doctrinal truth, is really nothing more than remnants of a murky and turbulent past.
Plus, with the discussion surrounding the confirmation of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and the possible appointment of Chuck Cooper as Solicitor General, it would not be considered out of line to recall “the last lynching” in Mobile , Alabama (1981) and BJU’s decades old prohibition (ended March 2000) on interracial dating that caused BJU to lose their tax exempt status and make an appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court (1982 – 83).
BACKGROUND — For those of you who don’t know, I was a student at BJU in the late 1970s and early 80s. I was expelled three weeks short of graduation on April 23, 1982. One reason given for my expulsion was my being critical of BJU and the Administration. I openly made the remark that unless the university learned to properly deal with the media and their public image, “no one would hire me if I have Bob Jones University on my résumé.”
I grew up in a sparsely populated county in southeast central Illinois. I knew nothing of “the Klan” (I would have spelled it with a “c”) and was unaware of the remaining racial animus present in certain urban centers and regions of the country. My parents were (still are) very conservative protestants. Their desire for their children was to attend a conservative, religious college. And BJU was that college.
Unlike my parents, I did not (still don’t) hold the same conservative views…
It is unfortunate that if we are going to discuss “the music of separation,” we must delve into a particular group that has always had at its heart separation, but, currently, is more associated with the word “segregation.” The Ku Klux Klan.
What is seldom discussed is the fact that there are three iterations of the Klan.
Klan I — The original Klan (or Klan I) began after the conclusion of the Civil War (1865) as a rebellion against Reconstruction and an attempt to thwart the efforts of Northern White Republicans to allow newly freed blacks the right to vote and to hold political office. Klan I and its influence were quickly diminished by the federal government and by the early 1870s, Klan I had been replaced by other lesser known and less organized paramilitary organizations.
Klan II — I want to skip Klan II for now, as it was the most organized and most influential of all the Klan iterations. Klan II not only influenced early 20th century politics, but religion, as well.
Klan III — Assembled from the remnants of the fractured, scattered and discredited Klan II, Klan III experienced growth throughout the 1950s and 60s in reaction to the federal government forcing integration upon the segregated South and the rise of black solidarity that dared to openly confront southern segregation. Klan III never became a single, nationally organized entity similar to the heyday of Klan II, but was a loose assemblage of smaller local groups. One example of this was the United Klans of America, organized by Grand Dragon Bob Jones (no, not the founder of Bob Jones University) in the early 1960s. This particular Klan boasted nearly 10,000 members before being brought down with the help of its own chaplain, Imperial Kludd George Dorsett, who was working as an FBI informant.
Lest you think all of this is ancient history, Klan III inspired riots took place in Mobile, Alabama in 1977 and also, what has been called “the last lynching” occurred in March 1981 after Michael Donald (a 20 year-old black man) was hanged from a tree with the express purpose of showing the strength of the Alabama Klan.
All of these Klan versions, or as I call them, iterations, were different in their formation, organization, scope and power. But, even though each Klan iteration formed in different eras with different men, they all had a single commonality: racial purity and racial separation. However, leaders, such as Grand Dragon Jones of United Klans of America, would never admit to being a racist. Jones didn’t object to Jews, he didn’t object to blacks—as long as they stayed in their place, away from him and never tried to mingle together with white people.
Strangely echoing the Carolina Joneses I am familiar with.
Back to Klan II — That brings us back to Klan II which began on Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta, Georgia on November, 1915. The man declaring himself Imperial Wizard of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan via a burning cross, an American flag, a Bible, a sword and mysterious incantations was a former itinerant Methodist preacher named William Joseph Simmons. “Colonel” Simmons, as he was known to his friends, had a thing for “secret societies” and modeled Klan II on kinship and brotherhood with the idea that the Klan would become a practical fraternity among like-minded men. Simmons and his Invisible Empire adopted religious trappings – a Klan Creed (Kreed”), Klan Hymns, and, much like many churches, stipulations and requirements for formal membership.
It is here that Colonel Simmons gets a mention in the biography of Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., founder of Bob Jones College which later became Bob Jones University. Quoting from the El Paso Times (September 30, 1922), R.K. Johnson in Builder of Bridges:¹ The Biography of Dr Bob Jones Sr. writes:
“‘I am not a member of the Ku Klux Klan,’ Mr. Jones said, ‘Col. William J. Simmons, Imperial Wizard of the Klan, a former Methodist preacher, is a close personal friend of mine and he approached me to join the Klan. He told me it was a patriotic organization and that it had never been a party to lawlessness. I did not join.’”
William Simmons did stress the fraternal and patriotic elements of Klan II over any examples or rumors of violence or lawlessness, so the fact that he presented Klan membership to Bob Jones, Sr. as “a patriotic organization” is not surprising. Had Bob Jones, Sr. joined Klan II in the 1920s at the invitation of Colonel Simmons, I seriously doubt that Simmons, a man who yearned to have his organization validated by famous and well-known individuals (especially religious personalities) would have kept Bob Jones, Sr.’s membership secret for long.
Pure Americanism — In the early days of the Twentieth Century (1915), up until the Great Depression (1930), in the world of traveling evangelists, there were two names that most people knew: Billy Sunday and, to a slightly lesser extent, Bob Jones, the eventual founder of Bob Jones College. Neither Sunday nor Jones ever admitted to Klan II membership and no proof of official membership has ever been produced.
But, we know that both of these men tolerated the support of Klan II. For example, we have multiple newspaper accounts in the 1920’s of Bob Jones, Sr. (then known as “Rev. Bob Jones”) speaking to the Klan, accepting Klan donations and allowing the passing out of Klan literature. Not just in the South, but in northern states such as Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Politically, religiously and racially, Bob Jones, Sr. and Klan II echoed the same sentiments. Patriotism, anti-secularism, anti-Darwinism, xenophobia and temperance – these were all Klan themes and religious men like Bob Jones, Sr. backed them up with scripture. It was referred to as “Pure Americanism” and Klan groups were careful to make sure that their members were “100% Americans.” There was nothing in between. It was “100%” or nothing.
In April, 1924, the magazine The American Mercury, founded and edited by H. L. Menken and George J. Nathan, used the moniker “Nordic Blond evangelists” to describe those who passed out a “circular” (called a “remarkable flyer” in another source) during a “Rev. Dr. Bob Jones” Dallas, Texas revival service. We find Bob Jones, Sr. in the snippet labeled “Texas,” and to get the full impact of Menken’s prose, you must read the reference to Bob Jones and the “Nordic Blond evangelists” in context:
Even though Bob Jones, Sr. states on more than one occasion that he refused offers of free membership in the Klan (“I’m not much of a secret society man,” he once said.) and, in regard to the Klan’s more violent actions, Reverend Bob Jones, Sr. stated his reservations. But, on more than one occasion, Bob Jones, Sr. ignored the Klan violence and accepted without reservation monetary donations from various state Klaverns – $1568 after an Andalusia, Alabama revival and in Pennsylvania:
“Mr. Jones urged the men to do their share in clearing up the budget of $3500. He said that $5300 had been raised and that $2700 more was needed. He urged many to put bills in the collection pans. He said: ‘If you’re not a member of the Klan and the man next to you doesn’t put in at least a dollar, he’s not a member either.’”
One source termed Bob Jones, Sr.’s support of the Klan as “tacit”, and that seems to be fairly accurate. By accepting donations and encouraging support and membership in the Invisible Empire of his day, Bob Jones, Sr., whether he intended to or not, acted very much like an Imperial Kleagle (a Klan recruiter). If not a recruiter, then Rev. Jones, Sr. was demonstrating that he, a Man of God, could be bought, or, at the very least, persuaded. However, Bob Jones, Sr. was careful to carve some distance between himself and the Klan – another reason why I believe Bob Jones, Sr. avoided membership.
“On one side of the pulpit was an American flag; on the other the emblem of the Ku Klux Klan. Attached to the wall of the choir section, high above the heads of the choir where all could see was a flaming cross. A clever electrical arrangement caused flames to shoot from the cross during the entire service. Directly in front of the pulpit was a cross illuminated by red, electric lights.” (McKeesport (PA) Daily News Evening Ed., Jan. 17, 1927, “About 3000 Ku Klux Klan Members There”)
Bob Jones College — In 1927, when Bob Jones College was founded on College Point near Lynn Haven, Florida newly elected (and backed by Klan II) Alabama Governor Bibb Graves gave the opening keynote address. After the Crash of 1929 and the beginning of The Great Depression collapsed values everywhere, facing financial bankruptcy, Bob Jones, Sr. moved Bob Jones College to Cleveland, Tennessee in the early 1930s. After experiencing a sustained period of growth, in 1947, BJC moved to a brand new campus in Greenville, South Carolina and became Bob Jones University.
Society changed all around Bob Jones, Sr. – Klan II had fallen in corruption and disgrace, the federal government began to pass and enforce civil rights laws, the so-called “non-racist” practice of “separate but equal” was ruled unconstitutional, religious organizations began to band together – this time to unite, not separate people. Political parties changed as well.² Dixiecrat Democrats (Strom Thurmond) rebelled at the notion of the federal government imposing civil rights laws on individual southern states causing the once powerful Democrat Party to become fractured — until the Democrats realized the power of “the black vote.” White, conservative Democrats in the South and elsewhere, left the party in favor of the conservatism the Republican Party embraced.
Bob Jones University would have been an entirely different school if the now Doctor Bob Jones, Sr. had followed the example of other religious leaders, such as those of the Episcopal Church, who formed The Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity. Meeting for the first time on the campus of St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina in December 1959, the ESCRU was created to combat racial attitudes and racial segregation within Episcopal churches, schools and organizations.
But, Dr. Bob, Sr. stood “without apology” and, like many other “old-time,” religious, principled southern men, held on to beliefs in separation and segregation. These were the same beliefs Dr. Bob, Sr. espoused during the halcyon days of Klan II, and Dr. Bob held on and preached these beliefs as religious doctrine well into the 1960’s. Less than four months after the ESCRU was formed in North Carolina, on April 17, 1960, over the BJU-owned radio station WMUU, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. preached “Is Segregation Scriptural?”
“No two races have ever lived as close together as the white people and the colored people here in the South and got along so well. Now what’s the matter? There is an effort today to disturb the established order. … You cannot run over God’s plan and God’s established order without having trouble.” (p.10)
Very similar to the North Carolina Bob Jones who organized The United Klans of America — “as long as they [different races] stay in their place” — everything will be fine. Unfortunately this same attitude of “predetermined place” was echoed by Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.’s grandson, Bob Jones III:
1968 – 2008 — Passing away in the tumultuous year of 1968, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. never did see his school fully accept unmarried black students at Bob Jones University. When it came to student racial policies, BJU was not just unusual; it was unique.
Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. passed his penchant for obstinacy and recalcitrant behavior on to his son, Dr. Bob Jones, Jr. who fought the agents of the federal government (IRS) over the final overt vestige of early 20th century racial policy: the University prohibition of interracial dating and marriage. The University lost the argument with the United States government in 1983 via a Supreme Court decision, but the University’s leaders never lost their stubbornness to change, keeping the “No Interracial Dating” rule until March, 2000, two years after the passing of Dr. Bob Jones, Jr.
In November, 2008, coerced by former students via an on-line petition, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.’s great-grandson, Dr. Stephen Jones (then president of BJU), issued an apology for BJU’s past racial policies. But the “apology” was not unconditional. Stephen Jones in his official statement blamed BJU’s past racial policies on “the segregationist ethos of American culture.” Jones mistakenly assumes that this “ethos” was ubiquitous and undisputed.
There were contemporaries of Stephen’s great-grandfather who did refuse to participate in Klan II “church visitations” and refused to accept Klan donations and the temptation of free Klan memberships. Of course, some of them paid a price for their failure to cooperate with “100% Americans.” In December, 1922, Governor of Kansas Henry J. Allen said, “When lawlessness developed, the Klan would disavow it and then give $50 to a loose mouth preacher, who would thank God for the Klan.”
The “segregational ethos” was a distant memory by the time Stephen’s father, Dr. Bob Jones III, rescinded the interracial dating ban (March, 2000). And, don’t be fooled; the only reason that rule was done away with was to help then Republican Presidential candidate, George W. Bush, who had recently spoke at BJU, deflect criticism and, hopefully, win the Presidency over Vice President Al Gore.
More? Oh, yes. We’re just getting started…
¹Builder of bridges, builder of walls — check out similarities between Bob Jones and Donald Trump.
²“The Democrats are the party of the Ku Klux Klan” — Wa Po, 2/8/2017