White FHU Logo
White FHU Logo

Henderson, Tennessee — (March 18, 2024) — Freed-Hardeman University (FHU) honored Black History Month with a series of impactful events aimed at fostering diversity, inclusion, and understanding within its community. The events included a chapel presentation titled “What Black History Means to Me,” by FHU assistant history professor Corey Markum, Frederick Douglass Day: Transcription Event, a panel discussion about integration in Chester County schools and a Black history display in the Hope Barber Shull Academic Resource Center. All of the activities were organized by the university’s BRIDGES committee, BRIDGES is an acronym for — Belonging to the FHU community, Reinforcing God’s love for us all, Integrating an inclusive learning environment, Developing a kingdom culture, Growing together, Embracing diversity and Strengthening our communities. As FHU commemorated Black History Month, these events, orchestrated by the BRIDGES committee, exemplifies the university’s dedication to fostering dialogue, understanding, and appreciation for diverse perspectives.

Chapel Presentation: BRIDGES – The Importance of Black History

In Markum’s chapel presentation “Why Black History Is Important to Me,” he made connections to historical figures such as Ruby Bridges, who at 6-years-old integrated an all-White school and is now a 69-year-old civil rights activist who shares the same age as his mother. He also acknowledged his appreciation for the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Saunders, the first Black student to graduate from FHU and the first Black professor at FHU. In addition, he acknowledged Drs. Karen and Sharen Cypress, who he calls his academic mentors and who in addition to other Black educators at the university offer valuable instruction and experience to FHU students.

Markum encouraged students to consider the popular What Would Jesus Do, or WWJD, when engaging with people from different backgrounds. Thus, encouraging students to listen, to be empathetic and advocate, when necessary.

“Living in lockstep with Christ means being in tune with our non-White brothers and sisters and listening to them,” Markum remarked. “And living the gospel of Jesus.”

Frederick Douglass Day: Transcription Event

Continuing the celebration, FHU hosted Frederick Douglass Day: a Transcription Event where students were invited to participate in preserving Douglass’ words. Held on February 14, which coincides with Douglass’ unofficial birthday, the event took place on the first floor of the Hope Barber Shull Academic Resource Center. Under the guidance of Dr. Loren Warf, an English professor and member of the BRIDGES committee, students had the opportunity to digitally transcribe Douglass’ handwritten correspondence. Warf explained that the transcription event is part of a campaign hosted by By The People, a crowdsourcing project held by the Library of Congress, enabling volunteers to digitally transcribe historical documents for preservation and education. Notably, the late Dr. Gerald Fulkerson, a distinguished scholar on Douglass and former chair of the communications department at FHU, extensively studied Douglass’ writings.

FHU junior Molly Reasons reflected on her participation, stating, “As an English major, I found the event particularly meaningful. It allowed me to engage with Douglass’ writings in a tangible way, deepening my appreciation for his historical impact.”

Integration in Chester County Schools: Panel Discussion

Near the end of February, FHU hosted a panel discussion exploring the history of integration in Chester County schools. Led by Dr. Sharen Cypress, the panel featured Dr. Elizabeth Saunders, Ethel Croom, Darlene Jones, Steve Croom, and Stan Croom. Saunders shared the history of segregated schools in the county and how JA Vincent organized the first school for Black students in Chester County back in 1932. In 1963, the school was renamed Vincent High School and was later merged with Chester County Schools in 1969 during integration. Saunders is a part of the effort to have Vincent High School added to the National Registry of Historic Places. Jones and the Crooms all shared stories of the sacrifices their parents made for their education.

Ethel Croom’s parting words of advice to students was “to plant seeds in the hearts of the children you raise to be kind and accepting of one another – no matter the differences.” The panel discussion provided valuable insights into the history of integration in Chester County, setting the stage for further exploration of Black history through FHU’s library display.

Library Display: Celebrating Black History

Throughout the month, FHU’s Library featured several photos in a display honoring Black history. The exhibit showcased local figures and pivotal moments in Black history, providing an educational resource for the university community.

Stories Behind the Songs: BRIDGES Chapel

The culminating event for Black History Month took place during chapel on Feb. 28, where students, faculty, and staff sang songs composed by Black musicians. BRIDGES chairman James Dalton delivered a presentation highlighting the stories behind several notable Black songwriters. The chapel songs honored contemporary artist Sylvia Rose, known for “A Mansion, a Robe and a Crown” and “Restore My Soul,” as well as historical figures like Fanny Crosby, a blind writer who authored over 8,000 hymns in the 19th century, including “Blessed Assurance” and “To God Be the Glory.” Other recognized songwriters included Charles Tindley, known for “We’ll Understand It Better By and By,” and Thomas A. Dorsey, who penned “Precious Lord” after the loss of his wife and infant son. Dalton remarked, “While our personal experiences may differ, like Thomas Dorsey, we find solace in the belief that God is with us in our darkest times.” He emphasized the importance of understanding others’ experiences as a means of fostering unity in Christ. BRIDGES Co-Chair Dr. Nadine McNeal expressed her appreciation for the service.

“I think it was wonderful to acknowledge the hundreds of songs that have been written by Black artists (musicians). The collaboration of students, faculty, and staff to sing the songs with vigor and then address the heritage of the writers giving them honor, to me, was a big deal,” she said.

The mission of Freed-Hardeman University is to help students develop their God-given talents for His glory by empowering them with an education that integrates Christian faith, scholarship and service. With locations in Henderson and Memphis, FHU offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s, specialist and doctoral degrees.