"The choices we make change
the story of our life." ©
Friday, March 10, 2006
DAY FIVE –-W. Terry Whalin, Editor / Writer
God Allows U-Turns Guest Blogger
Over ten years ago, it was my privilege to get to write two books for the chairman of the board for the fastest growing men’s movement in America called Promise Keepers. Bishop Phillip Porter was the leading African American in the organization and continues to be active today as chairman emeritus. Our first book was Let the Walls Fall Down about racial reconciliation. It is filled with significant and intentional u-turns or life choices. For today’s entry I want you to see Phil Porter’s intentional choice regarding integrating an all-white college:
“When I was in high school in 1954 I was recruited by Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. They offered me a dual scholarship—for football and for my academic credentials. I was also a successful boxer at the time. Then during the third game of my senior year in high school I broke three vertebrae, and my football days were over. Yet Lincoln still offered me the academic scholarship.
A Supreme Court decision in 1954 changed my college plans. In the case of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, the court declared that the separate-but-equal doctrine was wrong. As a result schools had to integrate.
I was ecstatic about the ruling. Little did I know that I would be personally asked to play a role in this historic event.
Phillips University, an all-white school in my home town of Enid, Oklahoma, was on a search for black students to integrate their school. This university, which was associated with the Disciples of Christ denomination, called my local black high school to see if any students qualified to attend. My principal, Luther W. Elliott, Sr., thought about me and said, “I know just the guy for you—Phillip Porter.”
Along with Professor Elliott I went to meet the president of the university, Dr. Eugene S. Briggs. We sat in the high-back, deep-red leather chairs of his office and talked. Dr. Briggs had read about my success as a Golden Gloves boxer and had seen my academic qualifications. Dr. Briggs offered me a $250 scholarship—the total amount for four years.
“We’ve also arranged some social life for you at Phillips,” he said with a smile. “We’ve recruited a black girl named Lois Mothershed from Little Rock for next year’s class. Lois sings like an angel, and she’s from the Disciples church.” Some social life! His conversation implied that Lois was my only possibility for social life among the other college students.
“There’s one more thing, Phillip,” Dr. Briggs said. “Integration will not be without problems. We’ve never had black students studying in close proximity to white students. This is a Christian college, and we’re trying to integrate peacefully. We know about your successful fights in boxing, and I want you to promise that you will not fight.” I assured Dr. Briggs that my boxing and fighting days were over.
“You’ll have to take a lot of flack from people, Phillip,” Dr. Briggs continued. “Can you do it?”
“I can keep calm in any situation,” I reassured the president.
On the first day of orientation for the school a large group of students met on the school baseball field. The school set up tables with watermelon, and on that August day we enjoyed the fresh fruit. I walked along carrying my piece of melon and smiling at people. I’d stop and introduce myself to people making light conversation. It was my desire to fit into my new school.
Suddenly a big red-haired boy from Louisiana rushed over and slammed my face into the melon I was carrying. He laughed and said, “I always wanted to put a nigger’s face in a melon.”
I forgot my promise to Dr. Briggs, and with fury I turned loose my boxing skills on this rude kid and whipped him. A few minutes later both of us were standing in Dr. Briggs office.
The president shook his head with disappointment. “Phillip, I told you it would be difficult. You promised me that you wouldn’t fight, and here you are fighting before classes even start.” I apologized for letting him down.
Because the red-haired student initiated the fight, he was immediately suspended from the school and sent back home to Louisiana. After the boy left the room Dr. Briggs turned to me. “You need to keep yourself under control, Phillip,” he cautioned. “You may face things worse than this during your four years at Phillips University.” I consciously made an effort to keep my emotions under control. I thought to myself, I’m here. I’ve been chosen by God, by my parents, by my community, by this school, to help integrate. My job is to do that. I’ve got to help integrate.
I repeated those words to myself during the remainder of my college years. But I held myself under control and wasn’t drawn into another fight. Sure there were opportunities, but I resisted the temptation to lash back with my fists.”
Maybe you are going to be tempted to be drawn into something that you shouldn’t today. Lean on the example of Bishop Phillip Porter’s intentional u-turn from Let the Walls Fall Down. It’s a decision that changed his life.
That’s all for today. Terry Whalin is signing off until tomorrow when we look at a u-turn in another significant person, Luis Palau.