Bob Jones University, interracial dating, brown vs. board of education
Patrick Collard/AP
Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C.

Bob Jones University Apologizes for Decades of Racist Policies

November 25, 2008 10:59 AM
by Shannon Firth
Bob Jones University’s Web site has declared that the administration is sorry for its “racially hurtful” policies, but the apology isn’t enough for some.

Graduates May Have Encouraged Apology

The president of Bob Jones University has apologized for the school’s long history of discriminatory standards. According to the State, a North Carolina newspaper, Stephen Jones’ apology was published on the university’s Web site Thursday.

Lonnie Randolph, head of South Carolina’s chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) called the move a bit of progress, according to the State. Randolph added, “It lets you know just how slow progress is to be.” 

Conflicting reasons were given for the timing of the apology. Randolph told the State that a meeting he held with Bob Jones III may have inspired the sudden apology. The State cited unnamed school officials who said Stephen Jones, the university’s president, believed the time was right for an apology, which had been considered for some time.

But the Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the apology was largely prompted by a letter sent from 500 BJU alumnae who are part of a group called Please Reconcile.

Please Reconcile’s letter said, “The University’s historical position on the topic of racial discrimination is deeply troubling. … We can find no record of a statement that admits that the university’s historical position on the topic of racial discrimination, while sincere, was mistaken,” the Courier-Journal reported.

The Associated Press outlines some of the university’s past policies that have drawn criticism. Despite the 1954 Supreme Court verdict in Brown v. the Board of Education, Bob Jones University did not admit black students until 20 years later.

The school also forbade interracial dating until 2000. Bob Jones III retracted that policy in a Larry King interview after a controversial visit from George W. Bush during the 2000 primaries.

In the Larry King Live interview, Bob Jones III explained why he made this decision: “I said to our administration, you know, guys, this thing is of such insignificance to us, it is so significant to the world at large, the media particularly, why should we have this here as an obstacle?”

Historical Context: George W. Bush visit; criticizing Catholicism

In 2000 John Leo, a writer for U.S. News & World Report, criticized Bush, then the governor of Texas, for his failure to address the university’s practices. Leo wrote: “The Bob Jones tradition has managed to combine negative attitudes toward nonwhites with negative attitudes toward nonfundamentalist Christians.”

Leo wasn’t disappointed that Bush visited the school, but he was dissatisfied with his message. He cited Alan Keyes, a black Roman Catholic, who spoke at Bob Jones University and talked of keeping an open mind about other races and religions. Leo wrote, “George W. Bush is a decent and honorable man.” Yet, in terms of the example Bush’s action set, Leo said: “Keyes did the right thing … Bush didn’t.”

Bob Jones had long held a negative attitude toward Catholics. In the early 1980s, Leo wrote, South Carolina House Speaker Ramon Schwartz, an Episcopalian, apologized to the state’s Catholics for having allowed Ian Paisley, a staunchly anti-Catholic union leader from Northern Ireland and a pupil of Bob Jones’ philosophy, deliver the opening prayer to the House. Furious, Jones wrote to Ramon, “Your weakness and folly were apparent to all.”

In another instance in the early 1980s, Bob Jones called Pope John Paul II the “perfect example of Antichrist.”

Opinion & Analysis: Apology disappointing; testing reactions to interracial dating

Chris Lawrence, writing for the online policy journal Beyond the Beltway, was disappointed by the apology letter. Lawrence took issue with the university blaming its past mistakes on “passive conformity” to American culture. Lawrence calls the explanation for the racist policies “factually inaccurate unless the trustees, faculty, and administration of Bob Jones University were conforming to the norms supported by the Ku Klux Klan and few others.”

Others questioned how much has really changed at the school. Several years ago, Salon writer Daniel Kraus posed as a prospective student, and brought his African-American girlfriend to check the reaction of students on campus. Kraus explained that even though Bob Jones III had said that the interracial dating ban was revoked, the rule was merely amended. Students of different races could date, but the school would require written permission from their parents.

Jenny, a Hispanic student, told Kraus, “I’d compare the [interracial] rule to if you were dating a rebel or troublemaker. Your parents would want to know about it, and if it’s OK with them, it’s OK with the university.”

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines