Rev. Gil Caldwell, One of MLK’s ‘Foot Soldiers’, Speaks at Duke Divinity School Where he Was Denied Admission 60 Years Ago

The Rev. Gil Caldwell spoke at Duke Divinity School Wednesday (Oct. 18),  60 years after he was denied admission on account of his race. (RNS photo by Yonat Shimron)
The Rev. Gil Caldwell spoke at Duke Divinity School Wednesday (Oct. 18), 60 years after he was denied admission on account of his race. (RNS photo by Yonat Shimron)

He walks with a cane and proudly acknowledges his age — 83.

But the Rev. Gil Caldwell, best known as “a foot soldier” in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s army, is not about to retire his lifelong fight for racial justice.

When Duke Divinity School invited him to speak Wednesday (Oct. 18) during morning chapel services, he saw an opportunity to ask whether Duke was willing to confront its past.

More than 60 years ago, the divinity school denied him admission because he is black. Speaking at a service in Goodson Chapel, he asked: “What is it that God would have Duke Divinity School do in light of that history? For if one is not honest about that history, one can’t be fully present.”

Divinity School Dean Elaine Heath acknowledged that history in introducing Caldwell, saying the school wanted to “reckon with its inglorious past.” Later, over lunch, she, Caldwell and a group of Duke Divinity School students talked about racial healing.

Caldwell recounted that in the early 1950s, he was studying as an undergraduate at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, about 50 miles to the west, when he felt a call to ministry.

Duke, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, seemed like a good fit for Caldwell, who is Methodist. But back in 1955, he told the students, the rejection letter he received said the trustees had not changed their policies on racial segregation.

“They hoped that I would find a seminary that would meet my needs,” he said, recalling the letter.

Caldwell attended Boston University’s School of Theology instead and there met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led him to a life protesting racial injustice. Caldwell marched alongside King to protest school segregation in Boston, to rally for jobs on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963 and to register black voters in the Selma to Montgomery, Ala., march in 1965.

Click here to continue reading…

SOURCE: Yonat Shimron  
Religion News Service