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During my time as a PhD student at Southern Methodist University, I had the privilege of researching the history of the integration of Perkins School of Theology (the seminary at SMU). The story of the integration of Perkins is fascinating and has been largely untold. It is particularly surprising that this story is not better known because Perkins was integrated in the fall of 1952, which was two years before Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka. It was also more than a decade before Candler School of Theology at Emory University (another Methodist seminary) integrated their student body.

It was interesting to learn more about the role of Joe and Lois Perkins, whom the School of Theology was named after as the result of a substantial financial gift. Joe Perkins was at times explicitly against the integration of the school, while Lois was at times a key voice in favor of integration. Merrimon Cuninggim’s role as the dean of the school was also intriguing. The highlight of my work on this history was by far the captivating phone conversation I had with James V. Lyles, who was one of the five African-American students who integrated Perkins. I can still hear his voice.

I was first able to present my research as a paper at the 2010 meeting of the American Academy of Religion. However, because of the demands of finishing my dissertation and beginning to teach at Seattle Pacific University, I had to put the paper aside for a few years. Last summer I was able to work on revisions and the paper was recently published in Methodist History. You can read the entire paper here.

I would also highly recommend Joseph L. Allen’s recent full history of Perkins, Perkins School of Theology: A Centennial History (Southern Methodist UP, 2011).

Kevin M. Watson is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology & Wesleyan Studies at Seattle Pacific University. You can keep up with this blog on twitter @kevinwatson or on facebook at Vital Piety.

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