In the book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a Yankee engineer from Connecticut named Hank Morgan receives a severe blow to the head and is somehow transported in time and space to England during the reign of King Arthur.
My trip, to the 19th Believers Church Conference, was not as dramatic but did have some similarities. Yes, I was a Canuck, he was a Yankee; he went to King Arthur’s court, and I went to Henry Tupper’s court—Tupper was the founder of Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina—but we both got transported back in time, he through science fiction and me through the very common vehicle of air transport.
As this Canuck walked around the campus (alone and via formal tour), I realized I was no different than Hank Morgan—I had been transported in time and space (if only metaphorically).
As an Ontarian, being in North Carolina (so near the seat and start of the American Civil War) epitomised the stark difference between reading history from a book as opposed to walking within its confines.
I have often imagined what a tool like the Holodeck, a device from the fictional television program Star Trek, would do for the teaching of history. The Holodeck was a mechanism that perfectly recreates any event or place in history. Being able to replicate a historic place or event would truly be immersive and make history come alive. My trip south was the closest thing to the Holodeck I suspect I shall have.
As a historian specializing in the black church and community, having the opportunity to listen to Dr. David C. Forbes, a founding member of SNCC (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and a participant in the lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement of the United States in the 1960s, brought history to life. Engaging him in the confines of a small intimate academic forum made it an immersive experience.
Moreover, SNCC was founded on the Shaw campus in 1965 and Shaw University was the first Historically Black College/University (HBCU) in the southern United States. With its many historic sites on or near campus, shown through plaques erected on poles (affectionately nicknamed history on a stick), the weight of the school’s history was as inspiring as it was humbling. To see what the once enslaved built and sustained gave me a sense of racial pride but also pride in the strength of the human spirit.
The Acadia Centre for Baptist and Anabaptist Studies (ACBAS) offered me the privilege to speak at the conference on the issue of leadership and the African Canadian community. I presented to the gathered scholars a small part of the African Canadian story through the lives and leadership of four men, two clerical and two lay—William Andrew White Jr., Wellington Ney States, J. A. R. Kinney, and James R. Johnston respectively.
The four men were preeminent leaders of the African Canadian community of Nova Scotia and reinforced the notion that the black church in Canada, like its counterpart in the United States, was the spiritual, cultural, and social advocacy centre of the black community.
The conference was filled with great highs including many thought-provoking presentations centred on leadership that celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. We were also blessed with a chapel service that had this Ontarian experience, for the first time, the black southern Baptist church in all its glorious music (via choir) and its powerful (call and response) sermon. Shaw effervesced black American history.
Like the Connecticut Yankee, this Ontario Canuck was transported in time, however, unlike him, I did not try to make substantive changes to the society I found myself in. Rather, I used the experience to augment my mind and the fellowship to nourish my spirit and inform my humanity.
Be on the lookout for more information about the next Believer’s Church Conference, coming up soon.
By Dudley Brown