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             The Harmonies of
             and Liberty

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The African American Experience at PTS

by Alfred R. Twyman and members of the inSpire staff

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Jonathan Gibbs, a member
of the Seminary's Class of
1834, was Florida's first
African American
secretary of state.


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Adrian Backus, the
Seminary's director of
planning, research, and
special projects, received
his Master of Divinity
degree from PTS in 1997.


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Cleophus J. LaRue, assistant professor of homiletics at PTS, is interested especially in the origin of African American preaching.

A wise person once commented, "There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth." What is the truth about the African American experience at Princeton Theological Seminary?

From a historical perspective, Princeton has played an active role in the rich and dynamic history of African Americans in their struggle for freedom in the United States. But what about a more current perspective? What about today’s African American students as they face both the academic rigors of seminary and the social aspects of the PTS community?

For many of last year’s incoming African American students, the anxiety that often accompanies being in the minority was diminished at the opening communion service held in Miller Chapel on September 17. Dr. Cleophus F. LaRue Jr. preached that day. LaRue, an assistant professor of homiletics; LaRue, a graduate of the Seminary’s Classes of 1990 (M.Div.) and 1996 (Ph.D.); LaRue, a Black Baptist preacher from Texas.

"Here you are at Princeton," he said, "this flagship of the Presbyterian Church (USA). And the first day of school the first sermon you hear is from a Black Baptist preacher."

In retrospect, and having learned something of the role that Princeton Theological Seminary has played in the African American struggle for freedom, students in the Class of 2000 may no longer be surprised by LaRue’s presence. For much of its history, the Seminary has educated and trained African American teachers and preachers. In both direct and indirect ways, it has also contributed to the development of other institutions of higher education as well as to organizations that would later play a central role in the march to freedom.

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Copyright 1998 Princeton Theological Seminary
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