Cecil Hinshaw

I heard of Cecil Hinshaw in ministry on Sunday. An older man said Hinshaw had inspired him to be Quaker, and had integrated the Quaker institution William Penn college in Oskaloosa, Iowa, with black and white students and faculty. I thought the 1940s was late to be integrating a Quaker college, but the pastor of the local Friends Church objected to black people in his meeting, quoting “birds of a feather”. The church appointed a committee, then decided all races were welcome at worship.

Hinshaw, a former Quaker pastor, sought to make the college a training ground for radical pacifist activists, involved in nonviolent direct action against the militarist state. With a theology of holiness and perfectionism, he sought to convert society following the example of Gandhi. He said, “Words from the Bible ought to shock us, stab us awake so fiercely that we could hardly sleep at night.” Instead we repeat them piously and meaninglessly. He became college president in 1944. The college was near bankruptcy, and suffering low enrollment because of the war. Iowa YM had already welcomed minority students to the college.

Hinshaw recruited students and faculty from pacifists in Civilian Public Service camps, and prisons. He encouraged racial integration, which caused friction with the town. Racial equality was his attempt “to practise the principles of pacifist living”. It was an embarrassment to most Friends Church members who supported the peace testimony but lived in small towns and wanted less publicity. In 1948 seven students or recent graduates were sentenced to eighteen months in prison for refusing to register for the draft.

A community council elected by proportional representation made decisions for the college. Military veterans and conscientious objectors mixed and worked together for justice and peace.

In 1948, 10% of the enrollment were from ethnic minorities: Japanese Americans, Hispanics and Jewish refugees. The 22 black students and reports of interracial dating troubled the town. When Marian Anderson, a black singer of classical music and spirituals, gave a concert on campus the local hotel refused to let her stay. Hinshaw recruited the first woman African-American professor in Iowa, and the first African American woman to teach in a predominantly white college. A mob threatened Cecil’s children if she remained, and she had to move onto the campus. The debate team boycotted a tournament when their black teammate was not allowed to compete.

Hinshaw resigned in 1949 after losing a vote in the Trustees. His resignation devastated his supporters- faculty shrank from 33 to 19, and only 7 of the 1948 faculty remained in 1950. The new interim president was quoted as saying “I am hopeful the number of Negro students will be reduced”. Divisions caused by the conflict lasted a generation within Iowa Yearly Meeting. The college fell away from Hinshaw’s radical pacifism, and in 2003 students demonstrated in favour of the Iraq War.

From “Penn in Technicolor” by Bill R Douglas, published in Quaker History. The title comes from an editorial in the Monroe County News, from a place just south of Oskaloosa, mourning Hinton’s departure: “If man is to be saved for something other than sizzling to his death under the bomb, the Penn idea must bloom again”.

Lenna Mae Gara wrote in Friends Journal of her experience and fellow students there: when Hinshaw left, Oskaloosa got what it wanted, a bland little community college. But when Kazuko Arakaki, from a Japanese-American internment camp, arrived as a student in 1944, it made her fellow students question the racism and war hysteria that made the camps possible. Julian Winston, a black student, became an attorney in Washington DC.

Joining the “Black Lives Matter and Racial Justice” course from QPSW, I was referred to the Friends Journal article in 2014 by Gabbreell James, telling of feeling unwelcome among Quakers as a black woman, and an article from 2011 on white fragility by Robin DiAngelo. She has now written a book with the same title. I recognise it. In small groups men were told not to monopolise the conversation. I am rarely short of things to say, but have not wanted others to monopolise so much since my first AM nominations committee meeting. My guilt and embarrassment are part of that white fragility, which gets in the way of work for integration, peace and equality. Speaking possibly from my inner light I said I want to move on from guilt to action.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, currently enjoying a windfall from white guilt after the death of George Floyd, says debates about racism are a game to some, a form of entertainment where writers and controversialists can take a position and argue. “We all know… all the stuff people have been saying for years,” she says.

I’m not looking to tell people what to do. People are very willing to give up their agency and look for leadership when they feel impassioned about something and I don’t want that at all, I want them to use their critical thinking skills to challenge racism and I can’t tell them how to do that.

Imagine you had a partner who you were hoping might be able to improve their perspective on something, and instead they say, “just tell me what to do”. That tells me that person isn’t willing to take on any level of responsibility and I guess what I’m trying to do is prompting people to take responsibility for racism. That takes initiative and using your own brain.

3 thoughts on “Cecil Hinshaw

  1. I agree that “Tell me what to do” is avoiding responsibility. But I believe it is sensible to ask “What do you need?” and “How can I help?” The majority very often unable, even though willing, to understand the needs of a minority from the perspective of the minority.


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