Unfamiliar lands

April 15, 2015

Princeton Theological Seminary can be a very lonely place for an African-American professor. Though I have been a member of the faculty for almost 20 years, I’ve often felt like an invisible man at that prestigious institution. Sometimes the weight of isolation, loneliness, and lack of tribal connection gets to be more than I can bear. Assimilation often trumps diversity.

During a particularly difficult period at Princeton a few years ago I heard Isabel Wilkerson on the PBS NewsHour talking about her new book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Hers was not the first book I’d read on the migration of blacks from the South to western and northern cities, but her account moved me—a native Texan—deeply as she described how those blacks tried to forge a new life for themselves among people and places quite unfamiliar to them. They persevered through difficult situations and necessary recalibrations in their newly found promised lands. They not only endured against great odds, but survived and prospered. The epic stories of those courageous blacks and their determination to make it have helped me to survive some very difficult times at Princeton Seminary.