II.The First Stage:Black and White Together

Berea came into existence because of political and religious reasons. The political reasons were provided by a local political leader, Cassius Clay, who invited the religious leader, John G. Fee, to Madison County, Kentucky in order to establish an anti-slavery settlement [Ellis, Everman, and Sears, 1985, p. 105]. The son of a slaveowner, Fee "called for immediate uncompensated emancipation of all slaves; he demanded that Christians refuse to commune with slaveholders because slavery itself was sinful--in fact, it was in John Wesley's words, 'the sum of all villainies'"[108]. Besides organizing several anti-slavery churches, Fee also wanted "to have a good school here in central Kentucky, which would be to Kentucky what Oberlin is to Ohio, Anti-slavery, Anti-caste, Anti-rum, Anti-secret societies, Anti-sin" [133]. He felt that "we have here a very healthful county far more than Oberlin ever was. Why can we not have such a school here"[133]? Some would have probably replied to Fee's question by stating that the reason was obvious: Madison County was a slavery county. For example, in l860 there were 1,881 slaveholding families who owned a total of 6,118 slaves [139]. Notwithstanding this fact, Fee set out to build the school of his dreams in Madison County: one that was anti-caste, antisectarian, open to the poor, encouraging manual labor [144].

Although Clay and Fee eventually parted company because of their differences over the gradual (Clay) or immediate (Fee) termination of slavery, they were still working towards a common goal of creating and building a college when a one-room school was built near the Fee homestead in 1855. By July, 1859 the first articles of incorporation for Berea College had been adopted, but because the leaders of the community were forced to leave the state of Kentucky in December 1859, the document was not recorded at the Madison County county seat of Richmond until 1866. The second by-law of the constitution declared that the college "shall be under an influence strictly Christian, and as such, opposed to sectarianism, slaveholding, caste, and every other wrong institution or practice" [Nelson, 1974, p. 15]. In a letter to Rev. J.A. Rogers, the first principal, Fee declared that "opposition to caste meant the co-education of the (so-called) 'races'" [15]. A promotional leaflet asking for donations emphasized that the school was "open to all of good moral character" [Ellis, Everman, and Sears, 1985, p. 210]. Thus, at this time Berea College was not set up to serve any specific area, group of people or denomination. As stated in the first bylaw: "The purpose of the Colllege shall be to furnish the facilities for a thorough education to all persons of good moral character [Peck and Smith, 1982, p. 13]. To many, all persons of good moral character included Negroes.

Before the Civil War, in the winter of 1858-1859, a school organization/club, the Dialectic Society, discussed long and earnestly the question of whether Negroes should be admitted to the school, if any applied [Hall and Heckman, p.331]. According to President Edward Fairchild, the first president of Berea College, "the question was not embarrassed by legal considerations, for there was no law of Kentucky forbidding education to free colored persons, or even to a slave, with his master's consent" [331]. Because the leaders of the anti-slavery community of Berea were escorted out of the county for their radical beliefs, the definitive answer to the question had to wait until their return at the conclusion of the Civil War.

The first constitution recorded in 1866 did not mention that the different divisions of Berea College were supposed to serve any particular race or region; however, the first catalog in l867 mentioned two groups of people: the recently emancipated Negroes and "the White people of eastern Kentucky and similar regions in adjoining states" [63]. Fee stated: "We had then no sufficient precedent to guide, and no theory to maintain, save that it is always safe to do right, follow Christ...The incorporation of the principle of impartial conduct to all, an institution for the public good, was to the founders of Berea College the only course {for} Christians..." [Nelson, p. 15]. In his inaugural address, the first president, E. Henry Fairchild, stated: "We are aware that this feature of the school fails to meet the approbation of many of our fellow citizens," but he did not "doubt that in the end this characteristic...will be most highly approved and popular" [17]. He also stated "that Negroes are to have and ought to have, the same civil and political rights as white men, and the sooner and more thoroughly both classes adapt themselves to this idea, the better for all..." [15]. On March 6, l866, 43 white students were enrolled in the institution; 18 left when four black students enrolled at the school [Ellis, Everman, and Sears, p. 211].

Not only did the founders of Berea College integrate the student body, but they also integrated the board of trustees. One of the trustees in l866 was former slave and soldier Rev. Gabriel Burdett, a friend of John G. Fee [212]. Like Burdett, other Blacks followed Fee to the town of Berea from Camp Nelson, a Union camp located in Jessamine County, Kentucky. They followed Fee because "he had determined that Berea would be the place where black people could own property of their own. He did not wish to promote a system of racially segregated ownership, however, but insisted on a kind of 'interspersion,' with blacks and whites being interspersed about the country's side and in the town" [218]. He said, "friends of the colored man will... so arrange sale of lots as to have them in the community so as to have for them schools and churches. Someone may say 'let the colored man alone--let him find his own way'--why not then dispense with educational efforts for him. I do not propose to feed him but put an axe and land within his reach and let him work out his salvation--help him to a home" [219].

As stated earlier, the goal was to educate Negroes and Whites in the same environment. In evaluating the success of efforts to achieve this goal, Fee stated, "Now there is a generation of men and women educated to the principles of justice & mercy of righteousness, who now stand firm against the tendencies of conservatism & Rebelism" [213]. To work, this scheme required integration on all levels, even interracial dating. Even though different interpretations have developed about its meaning, a 1872 Board of Trustees resolution did not prohibit social relations "between the races [as long as both parties were discrete]...under existing circumstances" [Burnside, 1986, p.12]. Thus, in the first phase of the institution's history there may have not been any Black Studies courses, but there was a commitment to educating Blacks and Whites in the same environment. This commitment was rooted in the founding fathers belief that as Christians, they could do no less. It was a commitment that continued to exist during the two year tenure of the second president, Reverend William B. Stewart. In fact, if the composition of the student body can be used as a criterion for judging the success of this experiment, then Berea was extremely successful. For most years before 1892 there were more Black students than Whites enrolled at the school, although in the college division there were more White students. However, during the second stage of Berea's history, the story was different.