A New Vision: Charles Stillman's Motivations to Create the Tuscaloosa Institute for Colored Ministers

While working toward his masters degree at the University of Alabama, Austin Seminary senior Barrett Abernethy worked for First Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the church that Charles Stillman served as pastor when he founded what was then known as the Tuscaloosa Institute for Colored Ministers (now, Stillman College). He found the connection between his academic and church life interesting and he began researching Stillman’s life and explored his motivations to create the school for newly freed slaves.

With ten months of research, Barrett wrote a paper to complete his degree on the history of Stillman’s motivation to create the school. “A New Vision: Charles Stillman’s Motiation to Create the Tuscaloosa Institute for Colored Ministers” was submitted to The Journal of Presbyterian History for consideration. This article, which appeared in the Fall/Winter 2012 issue, is a portion of Barrett’s complete work.

Barrett Abernethy is a senior Master of Divinity student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminar and currently serves as the Student Body President. He holds a bachelor's degree from Hardin-Simmons University and a master's degree in history from the University of Alabama.

Article summary:  This article examines the life of Reverend Dr. Charles Stillman and his work to establish the Tuscaloosa Institute for Colored Ministers (present-day Stillman College). Beginning in 1876, this school was the only one of its kind supported by the newly formed Southern Presbyterian Church, or PCUS. In his portrait of the minister as a youth and adult, the author asserts that Stillman was motivated by a desire to empower Southern blacks, both in the antebellum period and during Reconstruction. A nuanced portrayal emerges of Stillman as a product of his white supremacist environment who nevertheless went against the cultural grain and developed an institution that enabled young black men to minister to the larger African-American community.

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