Today we stoped in Oberlin, which is a beautiful college town with an inspiring beginning. It was founded by a Presbyterian Minister and a missionary- Rev. John J. Shipherd and Philo P. Stewart. They became friends while during the summer of 1832 in nearby Elyria, when they realized they were both disillusioned with the new towns and cities were being “settled by greedy, ignorant people who did not follow God’s commandment to love their neighbors”.(Oberlin: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow). They shared a vision of founding a community and college based on their religious beliefs. In 1833 , on 500 acres of donated land in the wilderness and financial help from generous benefactors, they founded the town and college. The college was to accept Blacks and women, a first in the United States.
The first Oberlin President was Asa Mahan, an abolitionist with controversial views. “Mahan was appointed President of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute on January 1, 1835. Things did not go smoothly, however. He was a passionate man with strong views, and a stronger personality. His views on ‘perfectionism’ and abolition opened the college to criticism. He thought his colleagues lukewarm, and they thought him excessive. His fellow staff tried to remove him in the 1840’s but did not succeed until 1850.” (Healing and Revival, 2004)
The college and community seem to have thrived on progressive causes and social justice to this day. The founders succeeded in attracting young families, students and financial support. The motto of the school was “”Learning and Labor” because students could work in the community in lieu of tuition. This attracted students who were eager for an education, but could not afford tuition, a concept unique to Oberlin at the time.
We stopped at the Oberlin Heritage Center, which includes the Monroe House, of Italianate architecture, built in 1866. James Monroe (1821- 1898) was born to a Quaker family who raised him with strong humanitarian values of abolition and pacifism. As a young man, Monroe was convinced by William Lloyd Garrison to use his oratorical skills to speak out against slavery. He traveled with Frederick Douglass on the abolitionist lecture circuit. Douglass respected Monroe because he not only spoke out against slavery, but also against racism. If Douglass was refused meals and accommodations because of his race, which happened often even with white abolitionist allies, Monroe refused their offers also.
The Oberlin Heritage Center also includes the original Oberlin school house, which defied Ohio “Black laws” at the time by serving children of all races together.
I am sure if I look hard enough, I will find serious hypocricies that defy these auspicious beginnings, however, I desperately need to believe in the ability of communities to live up to their ideals, so I am going to leave it alone!
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