Remembering Reverend Dr. Eugene Clayton Calhoun, Jr. – Humanitarian, Social Justice Advocate and Higher Education Pioneer

Posted by ncarter | 01/12/2010 02:32 AM

“I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go” 
Photo courtesy of the Paine College Collins- Calaway Library Archives
Story compiled by Helene Carter

“I knew him first as my president, then as my employer, but I grew to love him as my friend,” said Dr. Mallory K. Millender, historian who graduated in 1964 from Paine College, Augusta, Georgia and went on to serve as a professor at his alma mater.  Paine College Historian,  Dr. Millender recounts the life and contributions of his friend, the late Reverend Dr. Eugene Clayton Calhoun, a Methodist minister who led Paine through “perhaps the 14 most significant years in American history – 1956-1970”.  Dr. Millender is joined by Dr. Silas Norman, President of the Paine College National Alumni Association, and by Dr. George C. Bradley, President of Paine College, who gave an account of their personal experiences with Dr. Calhoun.

The Reverend Dr. Eugene Clayton Calhoun, Jr., age 97, died on Thursday, December 31, 2009 at Givens Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  The Paine College community mourns the passing of this remarkable, gentle but fearless trailblazer who lived life filled with compassion for his fellowman. Dr. Calhoun, the eighth president of Paine College, led the effort to establish the Black College Fund through which the United Methodist Church provides funds to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  His “calling to serve humanity” took him across the globe from the Far East to Georgia and on each journey carved an indelible path of social justice for the invisible man and those who were voiceless.
In Dr. Mallory Millender’s voice, “he was loved by students, faculty, staff and alumni. We loved him because he treated us the way we hoped that all people would treat us--but few Southern whites did--with respect, fairness and love.”             
Dr. Silas Norman, Jr., also a Paine graduate, served as a Student Government President during Dr. Calhoun’s administration.  “I had the opportunity to be a student during the tumultuous years of civil rights activity that began to sweep the nation, “said Norman. He further commented, “The Paine College student body was very active in challenging the historic racial segregation and discrimination existent in the Augusta community. Dr. Calhoun  exhibited a level of decency, sensitivity, and support that we respected. I cannot remember a single instance where he took any action to discourage or stifle our efforts. In fact, he took a public stance in support of our activities.”
Millender describes Dr. Calhoun as a “bridge builder” in the community.  “He was born to Christian parents who defied segregation.  His father, a minister and a lawyer, felt that he had a moral as well as a legal responsibility to fight discrimination. And he instilled those values in his children.”
            Said Millender, “I believe that Dr. Calhoun was perhaps divinely placed at Paine College during the tumultuous years when this nation moved from segregation to integration. The Methodist church sent him to do mission work in the Far East because few people in the church had the skills needed to work with the cultures in Japan and China.”
            “From China, Dr. Calhoun came to Paine because he had long ago adopted the philosophy of the song, "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go, Dear Lord," He said.”And He just set me down in my native South in the midst of the Civil Rights Revolution."
“He hosted James Farmer and the Freedom Riders on the Paine campus just before their buses were turned over and burned in Anniston, Alabama in 1961. And he was president at Paine in 1970 when the Augusta riot resulted in the death of six black men, all of them shot in the back.”
            Remembering the Augusta riot, Millender said, “As a white man respected in the black and white communities, he was a stabilizing force when then-governor Lester Maddox sent 2,000 National Guard troops to Augusta to quell the riot, many of whom surrounded the Paine campus, "not to protect you, but to contain you," he said the head of the National Guard unit told him, adding, "We have you cordoned off." During the same month, a shot was fired into Dr. Calhoun's home, missing his head by less than a foot.”
            “Dr. Calhoun knew how to raise support for Paine College, said Millender. “When he came to Paine, the institution was in danger of closing for financial reasons. But Dr. Calhoun raised money, attracted outstanding faculty members, and raised expectations.”            
Recounting his first meeting with Dr. Calhoun, Dr. George C. Bradley, said, “A Christian man of great faith, Dr. Calhoun believed in that part of the Paine College mission to “provide a liberal arts education of the highest quality that emphasizes academic excellence, ethical and spiritual values, social responsibility, and personal development.”  Bradley goes on to say, “Dr. Calhoun is best known for building many of the physical structures on campus. Of particular note, the Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel, was erected during his tenure. The painting that hangs in the narthex of Gilbert-Lambuth pictures Dr. John Wesley Gilbert and Bishop Walter R. Lambuth, two individuals that Dr. Calhoun admired very much.  It is said that when these humble individuals met in London to start their missionary journey to the Congo, Gilbert asked, “What shall be our relationship?” Lambuth replied, “We shall be as brothers.”  When I met Dr. Calhoun for the first time in the fall of 2008 it was if I had met a brother in the Spirit.”
“Dr. Calhoun was also a visionary,” commenting Dr. Millender who recounts an incident involving a Paine College professor whose work led to the establishment of the Head Start Program. Dr. Millender recounts Dr. Calhoun’s persevering actions surrounding a Paine College professor.  In the voice of Dr. Calhoun…..[“And I think I told you that Mrs. Mattie Bell Braxton, professor of education, really carried a lot of compassion for me. She put her arms around me coming down the stairs there.  And she did it with the greatest of ease, with no sense of difference in our age or in our ethnicity. She put her arms around my shoulders and said, “How are you doing?” in one of those toughest times.  And I was so distressed when they called and told me about her service, that I couldn’t go there. Our relationship was special. I don’t know how to classify it. It’s just the way it is. But I was disappointed not to be at her funeral service. And Dr. Scott went—not instead, but they did ask him, and he went. And he related a special incident.  She had made an application to one of the agencies of the national government for a grant for a program that she had designed for Paine College.  And they had turned it down because they said that there was a program at Dillard that was too much like that. And I thought that was a very poor reason for turning her down. The truth of the matter, the program was very much what eventually became known as the Head Start program. Now we were involved in Head Start.  I called the Congressman [Stephens]. I think he was from Athens or somewhere over in there. I asked him to come by the College on his way back to Washington. And I had some of our trustees meet with him.  We met in the President’s Dining Room there in the new Campus Center. I told him that they had turned us down because they said it was too much like a program at Dillard. I told him that if the program at Dillard was that good for them to make the grant, that this just seemed to me to be not just awful, but a violation of integrity. And he agreed with it. He went right back, and we got a grant that got us started in what became the Head Start Program.  But that was Mrs. Braxton’s doing. So it was a deep personal exchange between us. It’s something that I’ll always remember.”]
“During my last visit with Dr. Calhoun on the Paine Campus in 2009, I had the opportunity to express our appreciation for his leadership and decency that he exhibited during some very challenging years of  challenge to racial segregation and discrimination that characterized our society”, said Norman. “Even before we began our demonstrations and community meetings with Augusta City officials, I remember an incident that characterized his consistency of character and support for students. In the Spring of 1959, the College Choir took a trip to Florida. Upon returning, we had occasion to stop in Louisville, Ga. because of mechanical problems with the bus. While there at the service station where the bus was being repaired,  those of us on the bus bought soda pop from the station. We had deposits on bottles in those days, which I remember as  three to four cents. However, the proprietor charged us more than 10 cents. We were at the station longer than expected , and sought to return the bottles and retrieve our deposits. The  proprietor objected to returning our deposits, and when we insisted, he called the police. They arrived  and demanded that we board our bus and leave town. When we did not move quickly enough, we were herded to the bus at gunpoint. The last person to board the bus was the late Joseph Stinson, then Chairman of the Student Body.  Joseph was physically assaulted because he was not moving fast enough. Dr Calhoun went to Louisville to meet with Louisville City officials to protest our treatment. Then as now, his action, while appropriate, was not typical of the response we  had come to expect from White people.”
Dr. Calhoun was the architect of the modern Paine College environment and much of the Paine campus. Eight buildings were erected during his tenure: Gray Hall, Belle Bennett Hall, Hollis Hall, Irvin Hall, the Edmund Peters Campus Center, the President's House (Paine House), the Dean of Students' residence, and the Gilbert-Lambuth Chapel which has stones embedded, in front of the altar, which he brought back from the ruins of Ephesus in Greece. 
Dr. Calhoun’s book, Men Who Ventured Much and Far, tells the story of John Wesley Gilbert, a minister in the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, and Walter Russell Lambuth, a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, who in 1911 went to the Belgian Congo and set up the first Methodist mission in Africa.
Said Dr. Bradley, “Dr. Calhoun was the oldest living past president of Paine College.  He will be sorely missed by the Paine College community and by all who knew and loved him.  We thank God for the life, wisdom and vision of Dr. E. Clayton Calhoun and pray God’s mercy for his family.  Echoing Bradley’s sentiments, Norman said, “We will miss the likes of an E. Clayton Calhoun. May he rest in peace.”