GEORGETOWN Ky. – It wasn’t an obvious match. One college was mostly White in Georgetown. The other was a Black college in Texas.
But bringing the two schools together was something Georgetown College president William Crouch said God told him to do.
With that in mind, it seems fitting that a four-day revival this week will celebrate the partnership that has increased student diversity at Georgetown College, provided more than $1.5 million in scholarships and given the alumni of defunct Bishop College of Dallas a new place to call home.
How did this unique pairing come to be?
Bishop College, a historically Black school, was founded by the Baptist Home Mission Society in 1881 and began a two-year program to train ministers in 1925. In 1961 the school moved from Marshall, Texas, to a 360-acre campus in Dallas. In the mid-1980s, fallout from a suspected financial scandal caused the school to lose access to federal financial programs, according to the Texas Historical Society. It filed for bankruptcy in 1987 and closed the next year.
The legacy of the college far outlived its existence.
The school was known as a place that nurtured students, offering “second and third and fourth chances,” and the alumni took the bankruptcy and closing hard, said Crouch.
He met with several high-profile alumni and proposed offering them a new home and creating “legacy” scholarships for their children and other scholarships to students recommended by Bishop alumni. Georgetown College officials also created a Bishop College foundation to fund future scholarships and are working to build a Bishop College center on the Georgetown campus. Georgetown College was formerly affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
It wasn’t an easy sell to the Bishop alumni, who included at one point the heads of all four major Black Baptist conventions, representing more than 13 million people, Crouch said. The alumni weren’t familiar with Crouch or Georgetown College, and they needed to feel secure that the relationship would come to pass, he said.
“They have a love for their institution that is greater than anything I have ever seen,” said Crouch. The Bishop Tigers, just like the University of Kentucky Wildcats, “bleed blue.”
Bishop Kenneth Spears, pastor at First St. John Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Bishop alum, said many alumni recognized the importance of keeping the Bishop spirit alive. The relationship with Georgetown College, finalized in 2005, is important to those who hold their college experience dear, he said.
“The Bishop Tigers still live on in the connections people made,” he said, adding that he has lifelong friends from his days at Bishop.
“We still have a piece to hold onto.”
The relationships, he said, “were profound. We can still get teary about those Bishop College days.”
The Georgetown College relationship provides some immediate benefits for Bishop alumni. They could get their transcripts, which had been stored in a closet in Texas, for the first time in more than a decade. They also could buy hats, sweatshirts and other memorabilia with the Bishop College logo at the Georgetown bookstore.
Some Georgetown alumni and students were not without reservations. Some fraternities, Crouch said, “had to be convinced to put away their Confederate flags and to stop running around singing Dixie.” He received letters from alumni wondering whether other worthy students would suffer because of the special Bishop scholarships.
But, Crouch said, the administration stayed the course. Since the program started, minority enrollment at Georgetown College has grown from 1 percent to 12 percent, he said. The presence of the Bishop scholars has helped to draw in other Black students, Crouch added.
Spears made the ultimate commitment to the effort by sending his son Kenneth to Georgetown. The younger Spears had his eye on an Ivy League education, the elder Spears said. But he listened when his father suggested Georgetown. “It’s pretty much the main reason I came,” said the younger Spears, a freshman majoring in business and communication. He said he grew up hearing his father and his friends talk and talk and talk and talk about their Bishop College days.
It hasn’t always been the smoothest transition for some students, Crouch said.
Dwight Davis’ father, Denny D. Davis, pastor of St. John Church Unleashed in Grand Prairie/Southlake, Texas, is a Bishop alumni who encouraged his son to go to Georgetown. But when the city boy from the Dallas area moved to Georgetown, where he marveled at the small town with horse farms just miles away, he faced a culture shock.
The first semester, said Dwight Davis, who plays for the Georgetown Tigers football team, “I pretty much went to practice, went to class and stayed in my room.”
Now a senior, he made friends and came to appreciate his school and its connection to his father’s old one. (The scholarship money didn’t hurt, he said.)
There is still work to do, Crouch said. He hopes the ever-increasing minority enrollment will help the college attract Black faculty. There is still some resistance among a group of Bishop College alumni. But, the elder Spears said, that’s not the case “from my circle of friends. My friends and colleagues have just been open to the idea.”
As their fathers and other alumni come to town to preach at a revival this week, Dwight Davis and the younger Spears have to be open-minded, too. They are sure to face another week of stories from their dads about their days as Bishop Tigers.