Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 14 (December 1962):  126-127.

Walt Hearn suggested to me that since I am an ASA member teaching at the University of Mississippi, I might want to give other members my impressions of the events related to the riot which took place on our campus last Sunday, September 30. Walt is particularly interested-and he thinks others in the ASA are also interested-in what leadership, if any, Christians have given.

The information I have has been collected over the slightly more than four years I have been on this campus. At that opening faculty meeting four years ago we were told the segregation-integration fight was not ours, but a fight between the state government and the federal government. We were advised rather strongly to teach our subject matter, not to poll students, and not to get into the fight in any way. It seemed clear then that this advice was given because doing any of these things would help the cause of the integrationist; those in power in the state would surely welcome anything which bolstered the argument for segregation, no matter how far from his professional duties a staff member might stray. Actually, contrary to this advice some have polled their students every year and they have found students apathetic on the question of the entry of a Negro into the university. This would not be pleasant news for the segregationist.

Over this four year period the "advice" given at that first faculty meeting has been repeated many times and at the same time has been made stronger. A year ago, for example, the faculty were told to be careful even in private conversations. These warnings were made against the background of several small, but meaningful incidents: a law professor is denied tenure because he stated publicly Supreme Court decisions are the law of the land; a colored opera star is not allowed to perform on campus; an entertainer who is discovered to have pro-NAACP leanings is prevented from fulfilling his engagement and so on and on. Because of all these things, tensions have been mounting and as this is being written (Oct. 6), there are many more soldiers than civilians in the Oxford area. Apparently only they can keep the peace.

Why had the "advice" been given? Why has the NAACP made its first serious Mississippi effort at this particular university? I believe the answers to these two questions are related. The white population of Mississippi is not large (about a million) and there is an unbelievably large number of intermarriages generation after generation. These people are related by blood and culture. However, those among them who are better off economically have apparently decided that the University of Mississippi is the most fashionable of the universities and colleges in the state. But the large majority of the faculty at the University of Mississippi have origins outside the state, many even outside the South. Thus, this is just the faculty that is "dangerous" in the segregationist sense; probably this university is the one place in the state that can "infect" the state with Northern radical (i.e., integration) sentiments by influencing the young of the most prominent families in the state. I am not surprised that the NAACP and the Mississippi aristocracy have met head-on at the University of Mississippi.

Where have the Christians been in this clash? I don't like to say what I must say. Several days before the riot of last Sunday several ministers of the area published a sensible statement urging moderation; most of the evangelically minded ministers did not openly, at least, endorse the statement. On the Sunday morning of the riot one minister urged people to be calm even as he rather brazenly referred to atheistic, socialistic ideas which have infiltrated the state from the outside. On the same morning a prominent evangelical minister used the theme that change in life is inevitable, but it was probably far too tender a treatment to have much effect on the rocks and bullets that were used that evening. I believe he did not say anything about the crisis itself. On the other hand, two ministers I would consider liberals were on the campus during the riot taking rocks out of the hands of rioters.

On the campus itself what little opposition there has been to racist ideas has come largely from professors who would probably not classify themselves as evangelicals. I hope and pray that I am the exception. The faculty is somewhat like the faculty of any Northern university in that respect: there are only a few evangelicals, and those most active in defending civil rights are those who are, in general, less active in church work. Thus, the tension existing between the faculty and the Mississippi whites is not made less when one considers that Protestantism is as strong in this state as it is anywhere. ASA members will be interested to learn that when a group in the state two years ago engaged in a long, public, noisy attack on the university, they found as its worst sins that it taught integration and evolution! My own regrets are that if it has been able to teach integration, it has surely been by smuggling, and that it has had no trouble in teaching evolution.

The center of any integrationist influence on the faculty has been the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors, comprising about one-fourth of the faculty. This group had enough eyewitness evidence of the riot so that it could, three days after the riot, issue a public and widely circulated statement testifying that the mob, not the federal marshals, started the riot. This was an important statement because the state officials have been claiming the reverse. In addition, the statement said that the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court should be obeyed and that everyone should encourage others to obey the law. It is rather sad to consider that these statements, which are hardly stronger than platitudes, will be considered by many to be inflammatory. I am happy to have been one of the signers of this AAUP statement. It is interesting to note that the car of one of the outspoken AAUP members was one of the many destroyed by fire in the riot. What an evangelical student said to me was to the effect that this man had it coming.

This last comment suggests that the deaths and injuries of the riot seem not to have changed people's minds. I fear this is all too true. The university is making an obvious effort to exonerate all but one or two students, even though many persons, and I am one of them, saw hundreds saying and doing threatening things, at least at the beginning of the riot. (Students were not threatened with punishment during either the two-week buildup of tension or the riot itself.) Professors are "encouraged" officially and unofficially by the school administration not to make statements like the AAUP statement-probably by far the most daring statement ever proceeding from a faculty group here. There is a tremendous effort being made to minimize what actually happened-"only two people were killed"; "not much damage to university property," etc. Actually, about two hundred were injured and dozens of them were by gunshot wounds. A friend of mine, a professor who was trying to prevent students from destroying a newsman's camera and who was beaten by the students as the state police pulled him away and encouraged the students to continue with the camera, does not feel we should minimize what happened! (This incident took place at the very beginning of the riot before the marshals fought and just before the hundreds of state police were removed from the campus and dozens-perhaps hundreds-of outsiders who were armed entered the campus.) Naturally, in all fairness I should add that state and university policy has not changed the minds of those who are opposed to that policy; the lines are drawn pretty much as they were before the strife.

As a chemist, I have concluded that the social scientists have some tough problems to study! I think I have been living in one of their more interesting laboratories. Please pray for this strife-tom area. We know that men on both sides of the struggle have been attempting solutions made entirely from the mind of man, without God and without the heart-cleansing which they can receive from His Son. We also know this method will not succeed.

Russell Maatman

Associate Professor of Chemistry University of Mississippi