Rome says LU future must honor past, not dwell there

Lincoln University began with a very simple mission.

“Our founders, the inspired men of the 62nd and 65th Colored Infantries, and the white officers who assisted them, wanted simply to create an opportunity for free blacks to receive an education in the state of Missouri,” President Kevin Rome told the school’s Founders Day Convocation Thursday morning. “They simply wanted to address the dire need to provide educational opportunities for African Americans — their concern was for their families, friends and even those they did not know.”

But the school’s greatest challenge may have come from the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in May 1954, ending government approval of segregated schools.

“The decision was great for the future of Lincoln University,” Rome noted, “but I cannot, in my humble opinion, say that Lincoln University has ever fully dealt with what (the ruling) meant for its future as a university and as a historically black college.”

Pledging part or all of their pay, Lincoln’s founding soldiers entrusted Lt. Richard Baxter Foster to begin a school for freed men who, under an 1847 Missouri law, had been denied the right to learn to read and write.

Rebuffed in St. Louis because of racial issues, Rome noted Foster chose to locate the school in the capital city, and began holding classes in September 1866 “in a run-down school house” where the Simonsen 9th Grade Center now stands.

From that beginning, Rome said, Lincoln’s 148-year history has included funding challenges and “times when the leadership of the institution was battle weary.”

Many residents, local and state leaders kept their distance.

Connecting the soldiers’ 1866 dream with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech, Rome asked: “Are we realizing the dream, or are we tolerating the situation, just to get by?”

The founding soldiers simply wanted to “educate illiterate, under-educated blacks, in need of an education for a chance at a better life,” Rome said, asking if today’s school operations honor the founders’ wishes.

He noted today’s LU has faculty and staff from many parts of the world and “a diverse student body.”

Lincoln’s history and current role raise a lot of questions, Rome said, “that we as a body must address. We cannot continue to throw rocks and hide our hands on either side of the table, with our beloved Lincoln University continuing to deteriorate.”

Rome noted he’s been LU’s president for less than a year, but already has fallen in love with Lincoln, its history and its future.

“I know that many of the challenges that we confront today are not new,” he said. “I’m determined to do right by LU and do the right things by addressing the real issues that exist here.

“To do that, I cannot and I will not be afraid to speak out and to speak about the serious issues that are confronting our beloved university.”

Lincoln must concentrate on bridging the differences that remain, he said, and move forward, unified in common goals.

“I’m not afraid to ask the difficult questions,” Rome said. “I’m not afraid to take on the difficult issues.

“I’m not afraid to take on those who do not want to address the mission of LU, who resist change.”

All must help in that goal, he said, to heal “the longstanding racial, ideological and historical issues that have plagued LU from its inception.”

Faculty, staff and students must have higher expectations for academic achievement in and out of the classroom, he said, “where failure is the exception and not the rule.”

Lincoln needs more supporters who love it “as one can love the University of Missouri or any other institution, that others love,” Rome said.

And LU must focus on its positive aspects, not its problems.

“It’s not my intention to offend or upset anyone,” Rome said. “It’s my intention to have everyone fall in love with LU, or fall back in love with LU.

“Together, we can make LU a place we can all love and respect.”

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