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Making History Today - The Joy of History: One Thing Leads to Another

Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest

James S. Currie, Executive Secretary

One of the delightful aspects to being part of this organization is discovering all kinds of people, events, and places I never knew about. What makes it fun is seeing how one thing leads to another to another and to another. Here are a few examples: 

(1) Many know of the 1957 crisis at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Some may even know that the only local clergyman to walk alongside the African-American students on that first day of school in the face of an angry white mob was Rev. Dunbar Ogden, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Little Rock. Because he dared to do this, Ogden was forced to resign his position. Eventually, he received a call to be associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Huntington, West Virginia. His father, Dunbar Ogden, Sr. served as pastor of the Napoleon Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1930-1950 (which no longer exists). He was a descendant of Rev. Jedediah Smith, one of the earliest Presbyterian ministers to come to Louisiana.   Dunbar Ogden, Jr.’s son recounts his father’s Little Rock story in My Father Said Yes: A White Pastor in Little Rock School Integration (2008). 

In another matter related to the Central High School situation an attorney who was instrumental in opening the Little Rock high schools after the 1957 crisis was a Presbyterian by the name of James Gaston Williamson. A member of Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, Gaston grew up in Monticello, Arkansas and was the brother of Rev. Lamar Williamson who taught for many years at Union Seminary in Richmond. Their father, Lamar Williamson, Sr., was also an attorney and served for many years as clerk of session of the Presbyterian church in Monticello, Arkansas. For a wonderful collection of excerpts from Williamson’s session minutes, see Jerry Tompkins’ … And a Time to Laugh: Notes from the Pen of an Untamed Iconoclast (1966). One thing leads to another…. 

(2) A recent column about the San Felipe community in Del Rio prompted a couple of responses that sparked more curiosity. One came from Rev. Fred Seay, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sugar Land, Texas. Fred recalls preaching as an Austin Seminary student at First Presbyterian Church in New Braunfels. One of the pastors of that congregation during the Texas Mexican Presbytery days was Rev. J. Martinez who happened to be the last pastor of the San Felipe congregation in Del Rio and who retired in New Braunfels. Furthermore, Fred got to stay in the Martinez home and heard many stories, including ones about Del Rio, from Rev. Martinez. 

Apparently as a result of that same column, a note came from a Mr. Vaughn Camacho of Portal, Arizona who has photos of the Mexican Presbyterian Church in Taylor, Texas and wants a place to send them. I look forward to receiving them as I was unaware of a Mexican Presbyterian Church in Taylor. It made me think of how many other such stories remain untold. One thing leads to another…. 

A notice celebrating Dr. Greg Cuellar’s promotion to being full professor of Hebrew Bible at Austin Seminary indicates that he is the first Mexican American to achieve that distinction at Austin Seminary. He referred to Elias Rodriguez as being the first Mexican American to graduate from APTS (1908). Not only does this remind us of Presbyterian ministry with and to the Mexican American communities, but it also reminds us of the beginnings of such institutions as the Presbyterian Pan American School in Kingsville and its ongoing ministry. One thing leads to another….

(3) A recent column on the roots of the University of Tulsa reminded us that it began as Presbyterian School for Indian Girls in Muskogee, Oklahoma. It became Henry Kendall College in 1894, and in 1907 it relocated to Tulsa. In 1921 its name became the University of Tulsa. As this column is being written, it was noted that it was this month 194 years ago (actually May 28, 1830) that President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law which affected Creek Indians who formed the community in Muskogee that established the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls in 1882 (the other Indian nations affected by this law were the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole). This forced march west became known as “the trail of tears.” Incidentally, there is a research effort at the University of Tulsa that is collaborating with the “Muscogee (Creek) Nation Historic and Cultural Preservation Department” whose “mission is to locate, identify, and honor the students who attended the University of Tulsa’s predecessor institution, the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls (1882-1894)…. The project’s participants seek to illuminate the lives and stories of the school’s Indigenous students as well as the diminished connections between the University of Tulsa and Indigenous histories.” One thing leads to another…. 

(4) A recent conversation having to do with the possibility of welcoming some Ukrainian students to the Presbyterian Pan American School (which did not work out for this year, but there are hopes for it happening in 2025) led to a conversation with members of Palo Duro Presbytery. For over 25 years that presbytery has led mission work to children in Romania who were victims of abandonment and abuse under the Ceaucescu regime. Rev. Kristen Harris, a member of Palo Duro Presbytery, is the Mission Coordinator for NOROC (New Opportunities for Romanian Orphaned Children). She spends six months of the year in Tulcea County, Romania “working alongside the Romanian staff of NOROC in their service to orphaned, abandoned, abused, and neglected children being raised in state-run group homes and orphanages.” In a recent conversation with her I learned that NOROC is also welcoming refugees from Ukraine as they escape that war-torn country. What a wonderful ministry! One thing leads to another…. 

It is not only fun to discover these connections, but it reminds us that there are so many more stories beneath the surface of the “names, dates, and places” that many find boring. The communion of saints begins to come alive when we begin to make these discoveries. It becomes a very exciting and fascinating adventure. 

The Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest exists to “stimulate and encourage interest in the collection, preservation, and presentation of the Presbyterian and Reformed heritage” in the Southwest. If you are not a participating member of the Society and would like to become one, the annual dues are $20 per individual and $25 per couple. Annual institutional and church membership dues are $100. Checks may be made out to PHSSW and sent to: 

PHSSW – 5525 Traviston Ct., Austin, TX 78738.  

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