By ISAAC FLOWERS TOWER staff Writer
The Student Activities Center hosted a discussion with Civil Rights Activist, Shaun King. In an interview, Shaun expressed his thoughts on Bethany College being an essential stop on the underground railroad. “We often don’t think about how complex the history of the place we are. Sometimes you have to take a step back and realize all the good and bad that took place.” I had to sit back and ask this question. Being African American Student at Bethany College, I feel like a product of the hardship and adversity that my ancestors faced. I find it amazing how in the past, African Americans had to sneak throughout this campus; now we have an equal opportunity for education.
The past month of February is the annual celebration of milestones made by African Americans in U.S history. It is an expansion of “Negro History Week,” launched by Carter G. Woodson and the Association of Negro Life and History and held on the second week of February. Negro History Week was placed in between Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln birthdays in honor their contributions to civil rights. It was eventually adopted as time to study black history when it gained attention and cooperation from the department of education in the states of North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia. The expansion to black history was proposed by black educators and students at Kent State University in February 1969; the first celebration took place a year later at Kent State throughout February.
As we all know Alexander Campbell was the Scots-Irish immigrant who founded Bethany college in 1840. Mrs. Campbell inherited a few slaves from his dad but wasn’t too fond of the idea. He had a religious view on life, one of his visits to Boston he preached at the Tremont Temple Baptist Church, which was the first integrated church in the U.S. Campbell sister Dorothea and her husband Joseph Bryant were helpers in the Underground Railroad. The Bryants had their son Thomas Campbell Bryant a student at Bethany help slaves escape through Bethany to the McKeever home in West-Middletown. Jane, Campbell’s other sister and her husband Matthew McKeever were firm abolitionists who conducted a station on the Underground Railroad, in Middletown Pa, ten miles away from Bethany College. The runaway slaves were hidden in attics, barns, and cellars then would be shipped to the city of Pittsburgh. Here is an updated letter from Matthew McKeever explain the operations of the underground railroad:
Dear Sir: You wish to know something of my experiences with the “Underground Railroad” I was a director of that road for 40 years. The kind of cars we used was a good spring wagon with a chicken coop at each end and the darkies in the middle, with good cover over them. The highest number of slaves I ever shipped a once was eight. They came to our house about day-break one morning before any of us were up, except a man of color John Jordan. He took them and hid them in the shell loft and kept them there for week and although we had a family of eighteen or twenty, not one of them knew they were there, not even my wife.
It is stirring to read these words of McKeever while he writes about this intense experience knowing that they occurred here in the area. When I talked with some students about Bethany’s contribution to the Underground Railroad, I was surprised that some responses were positive. Mike Lyons, Senior , Business Major said “I believe it’s very important, especially being an African American in Bethany West Virginia, knowing that our little college helped African Americans throughout history is incredible.” Jean Carlo Tejeda, another Junior Psychology Major, offered that, “It’s something that Bethany needs to emphasize on, when recruiting students, because it’s any important part of history.” Sadly, there are examples in Bethany’s past where slavery was certainly not condoned during the Campbell movement, but was set on that a solution to this awful situation was to encourage freed blacks to return to Africa. But there seemed to be a sense that Bethany should use these experience to re-dedicate itself to mission for equal rights from some students. With President Dr. Tamara Rodenberg’s initiative of “Dismantling Racism,” it appears that our little school is on the right track.