As a pioneer in interracial education, particularly in the South, Berea College has focused on racial equality from its inception. Egalitarianism has not been limited to the classrooms, but has been a part of the College’s leadership and governance, too, with African-Americans serving as Trustees of Berea from the 1800s to the present.
James Bond, who was born into slavery in 1863, was eventually emancipated. Shortly before his sixteenth birthday he led a young steer to Berea College to help pay for his educational expenses. Bond graduated in 1892, one of only about 2,000 African Americans in the United States at that time to hold a college degree. In 1896, he was elected a Trustee of Berea College and served the College until 1914. His service coincided with an era of tremendous upheaval and challenges created by passage in 1904 of the Day Law, a Kentucky law aimed at Berea which forced the College to segregate. Bond was appointed Financial Secretary of Berea College, with the chief responsibility of raising money to establish Lincoln Institute, a school for black students initiated by Berea in response to the Day Law. Bond’s leadership was successful and when Lincoln Institute opened in 1912, Bond moved there, enrolling his children in the new school. He served as financial agent and his wife, Jane, taught Latin and French. In addition to serving as a College Trustee for 18 years, Bond was awarded an honorary master of science degree in 1897 and an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Berea College in 1901.
In more recent decades, other notable African-Americans served Berea College as Trustees. Noted journalist and author Alex Haley, was a convocation speaker at Berea in 1966, just one year after publishing The Autobiography of Malcolm X and 10 years before his trademark work Root’s was released. Haley became a Berea College Trustee during the 1980s. He worked with the College’s then-president John Stephenson and Berea College students on an initiative to encourage high school students in Appalachia to pursue higher education.
Today, African-American leaders including Vicki E. Allums, Celeste Armstrong, Charlotte F. Beason, Vance Blade, Charles D. Crowe, John F. Fleming and Eugene Y. Lowe, Jr. serve as Trustees of the College. Bringing skills from wide-ranging sectors such as healthcare, education, arts, administration, business and industry, they provide ongoing leadership for carrying out Berea’s mission to Appalachia and beyond.