Black History Month at Concordia Texas: Building Bridges of Access to the Academy
In recognition of Black History Month, Concordia University Texas (CTX) honors the theme "Building Bridges of Access to the Academy: Tracing the Contributions of Black Americans towards Increasing Access to Higher Education." This initiative not only pays homage to the past but resonates strongly with CTX's current efforts to enhance educational accessibility.
Among the celebrated figures in Black history who have contributed to increasing access to higher education, names like W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, and Mary McLeod Bethune come to mind. However, Rosa Young, a pivotal figure in this narrative, is often overlooked. Young's remarkable achievements in the early 20th century, a period marked by severe racial segregation, included the establishment of 30 Lutheran schools and 35 Lutheran congregations, as well as founding Concordia College in Alabama. Her life and work exemplify resilience, faith, and dedication to empowering African Americans through education and religion (Young).
Born in 1890 in Rosebud, Alabama, Young displayed a passion for education early on (Young 27). Despite the limited opportunities available to her as an African American in the Jim Crow South, her academic prowess led her to attend Payne University in Selma, Alabama, fueling her commitment to education (Young 28-29). She overcame societal barriers to create opportunities for African Americans in her community, providing access to quality education and religious instruction.
Young's most notable achievement was her foundational role in establishing Lutheran educational and spiritual institutions in Alabama, earning her the sobriquet the “mother of Black Lutheranism” in Alabama. These institutions were not just centers of learning but beacons of hope and progress.
In her autobiography, “Light in the Dark Belt,” Young writes: We had in the Alabama Field, in 1946, thirty-five colored Lutheran congregations and several preaching places...At these thirty-five places, where the Bread of Life was being broken to old and young, we had a total membership of 3,212 souls, all live, active members of the Savior's Church in the Black Belt. Just think of it, a few years ago this vast number of people had never heard of the Lutheran Church. God alone knows how much glorious Gospel light has illumined hundreds of formerly dark and dreary cabins through the religious schoolbooks the children carry into their homes. Old and young into whose ears and hearts the Word of God has sounded rejoice in the knowledge, yes, the saving knowledge, of a loving Savior who died on the Cross for their sins...Streams of blessings flow from these nurseries into the cabins of ignorance and sin of the colored people here in the Southland. (146-147)
Her efforts in founding Concordia College in Alabama became a cornerstone for higher education in the African American Lutheran community.
The legacy of Rosa Young extends beyond the institutions she established. Her work exemplifies what it means to be an ambassador for Christ, as outlined in 2 Corinthians 5:16–20. Young transcended societal norms, viewing others beyond external divisions. She embodied the concept of being a "new creation" in Christ, and her schools and churches were a testament to this new life and hope I(Young 146). Young was actively engaged in the ministry of reconciliation, breaking down barriers of segregation and discrimination, and bringing together divided communities in Christ.
Young's dedication amid adversity was a powerful appeal for reconciliation, showcasing how faith can transcend societal barriers and bring about transformative change. Her life and work serve as reminders of the power of faith in action and the transformative role of education and religion in advocating for equity and unity.
Rosa Young's work in establishing Alabama Lutheran Academy and College which later became Concordia College Alabama, was a landmark achievement (Young 165). “[F]ounded with her influence in 1922 to educate and train future black Lutheran pastors and teachers for the Alabama mission and elsewhere,” Concordia College Alabama embodied the reconciliatory power of the gospel (Noon). Selma, Alabama, holds a pivotal place in the history of the Civil Rights Movement, most notably for the Selma to Montgomery marches which would some years later, in 1965. These events were instrumental in raising national awareness about the struggle for civil rights and contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Selma's history underscores the ongoing fight against racial injustice and the importance of advocacy and perseverance in pursuing social equality.
Concordia University Texas' initiatives, particularly the "Right Call" campaign, resonate with the legacy of Rosa Young and the historical struggles epitomized by Concordia Alabama. By restructuring tuition, CTX is breaking down financial barriers, reflecting a commitment to making education accessible to a more diverse student body. This initiative, coupled with inclusive teaching practices, aligns with the ethos of providing equitable educational opportunities.
The link between Rosa Young's establishment of Concordia College Alabama, Selma's role in the Civil Rights Movement, and the current initiatives at Concordia University Texas is the enduring commitment to access to and liberation through education. These efforts represent different facets of the struggle against the barriers historically excluding marginalized communities from educational opportunities.
Young's work laid the foundation for future generations, symbolizing the power of education as a means of empowerment. Selma's role in the Civil Rights Movement highlights the importance of resilience and advocacy in the face of injustice (The Shadow of Selma, 5. Concordia University Texas' initiatives reflect an ongoing commitment to these principles, ensuring that the legacy of inclusivity and accessibility in education continues to evolve and impact future generations.
These interconnected histories and efforts showcase a collective journey towards a more equitable and inclusive educational landscape, rooted in the values of faith, service, and fairness. They remind us that the pursuit of educational equity is not just about access to resources but also about fostering an environment where every individual has the opportunity to learn, grow, and contribute to society.
Young's legacy resonates with the ongoing story of faculty and staff at Concordia University Texas. Her dedication, resilience, and faith-driven mission to educate and empower embody the spirit of those working in education today. As we explore the life and contributions of Rosa Young, we aim to pay tribute to her and shine a light on the broader narrative of unsung heroes who have shaped the landscape of higher education access.
Concordia University Texas's commitment, reflected in the "Right Call" campaign, is more than a policy change—it's a reaffirmation of our core values and a tribute to trailblazers like Rosa Young. As we celebrate Black History Month, let's embrace this opportunity to reflect on our role in building bridges of access to higher education, inspired by the past and motivated by our future.
By acknowledging and learning from the contributions of Black Americans like Rosa Young, we at CTX are not only honoring a rich history but are also actively participating in shaping a more inclusive and accessible future for all students.
Noon, Thomas R. "Rosa Young." Encyclopedia of Alabama, 23 Oct. 2007, updated 27 Mar. 2023, https://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/rosa-young/
Joe Street and Henry Knight Lozano. The Shadow of Selma. University Press of Florida, 2018. EBSCOhost, research.ebsco.com/linkprocessor/plink?id=886ca27a- fd9a-3648-b323-7eee8c6d416b.
Young, Rosa. Light in the Dark Belt: The Story of Rosa Young as Told by Herself. Concordia Publishing House, 2014.