"Let Us Make Man ... Morehouse
Address of President Robert Michael Franklin ‘75 delivered
on Friday, February 15, 2008, in the Martin Luther King Jr. International
Chapel, Morehouse College
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Chairman Davis, trustees, president emeritus
Massey, faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors, distinguished
delegates from esteemed institutions and to all who love and cherish
Morehouse. I come to this moment
in my life with a profound humility matched by my determination to
see our great school rise to new heights of accomplishment. This
is a very special, personal moment for me as so many of my family
and special friends are here to share in it. I’d like to ask
my entire extended family to stand and I’d like to thank my
mother, my wife Cheryl, and my children for their selflessness and
My only regret is that my father is not here.
Dad passed away in 2001, and he is the reason that I came to Morehouse.
Although he did not attend himself, in 1968, he told me to sit
and watch the funeral ceremony of Dr. King. As most of you know,
the ceremony that began at Ebenezer Baptist Church concluded here
on the Morehouse campus. I hope all of our guests will walk out
to the Century Campus and observe the sacred ground where young
Dr. King walked as a student and where our sixth president, Dr.
Benjamin Elijah Mays, delivered his eulogy. After watching the
ceremony together, my dad looked at me and said “that’s where I’d
like you to go to college.”
Three years later, I stepped off a Greyhound
bus here with my mother. I like to tell the story about how she
made the long ride back by herself. When she returned to Chicago,
she told our cousin, the Rev. Walter Battle, tearfully that she
had just left her child at Morehouse. He replied, “Dorothy, listen to what you just said. Some mothers
are crying today because they left their sons in a morgue. Some mothers
have left sons in jail, but you have left a son at Morehouse.” She
reported that his words transformed her sacrifice into an investment.
Today, we gather not so much for one person’s inauguration
as for an institution’s academic and moral diagnosis. An inauguration
should be a moral checkpoint for all of us to ask, “Does Morehouse
remain committed to the lofty mission that set her course back in
1867? Is Morehouse making good on the ancestors’ investments
of prayer, money and hope?”
I am here to say today, that thanks to the
collective contributions of all of our previous and current stakeholders,
Morehouse stands on a firm foundation. Morehouse is as strong as
she has ever been, and Morehouse is prepared to march forward as
one of the nation’s
premier liberal arts institutions.
Today, I’d like to declare that Morehouse will prepare 21st
century Morehouse Men. And, I’d like to define those Morehouse
Men as Renaissance Men with a social conscience.
The vision for a Renaissance emerges from listening
to Morehouse, feeling Morehouse and walking her sacred grounds for
more than 35 years and more intensively during the past eight months. Indeed,
my overriding sentiment during the past eight months is that Morehouse
is her traditions, her people and her dreams. In fact, we cannot
talk about the Morehouse Man as a Renaissance man until we understand
the institutional DNA manifest in her traditions, people and dreams.
The historian Jaroslav Pelikan has written
that “tradition is the living faith of the dead, while traditionalism
is the dead faith of the living.” Morehouse traditions are
rooted in a dynamic and profound faith.
Just up the hill from where we now sit is a building called Graves
Hall. It is named in honor of our second president, Samuel L. Graves.
Graves is our best known and oldest building. Its pyramid-like
steeple forms the trademark or logos that you see in our literature.
It has even inspired the gesture Morehouse Men use to represent our
pride and belonging. (Men of the house, salute!) The building was
constructed in 1885. You should also know that the Century Campus
in front of Graves is where Dr. King’s funeral took place.
That same space was the site of an historic Civil War battle and
the burial ground for fallen Confederate soldiers. Generations of
Morehouse students who were sentenced, I mean privileged, to live
there have special tales of joy and sorrow. We won’t bore you
with them today, but listen to the words spoken by Morehouse alumnus
C.T. Walker at the dedication of Graves Hall.
“Let (this institution) rise til
it meet the sun in his coming! Let the earlier light of the morning
gild it, and parting day linger and play on its summit. So may
the fame of this institution spread all over this broad land
and even upon the burning sands of Africa may her trained sons
wave the banner of the cross. Let its fame rise until the men
sent forth shall cultivate literature in the highest degree,
in the press, in the schoolroom, on the platform, and in the
pulpit. Let it rise until its fame and thorough work shall surpass
the expectations of its founders and friends, the pride of the
Negro Baptists of Georgia and an intellectual lighthouse for
the race. Let the men who go from these walls prepared for high
work publish the fame of this institution by their varied knowledge
and enlarged views, by their fixedness of purpose and their earnest
desire to bless fallen humanity and write their name in bright
letters in the temple of fame.”
Another great tradition is
the singing of the College hymn. We don’t simply sing it, we
manifest it. You will see at the end of this ceremony that we clutch
hands in a cross-over fashion, and we present each of the three stanzas
as a moral drama in three acts: There is a pledge: “Dear
old Morehouse, we have pledged our lives to thee…” There
is a plea: “True forever to old Morehouse
may we be, so to bind each son the other into ties more brotherly…” Concluding
with a prayer in crescendo: “Holy Spirit,
make us steadfast, honest, true to old Morehouse and her ideals and
in all things that we do.”
But, again, traditions can live only if people wish to extend the
living faith of the dead.
Morehouse is also her people. Every Morehouse
generation has produced its own saints, heroes and heroines. Talk to any Morehouse
alumnus, faculty member, student or staff member and you will hear about the
special people of yesterday. But, we have some extraordinary people with us
now, as well.
Georgia Rolax is Morehouse. She is the College
receptionist and sits on point in Gloster Hall welcoming the public
and instructing students to silence their cell phones and remove
their hats. What they don’t know is that she prays for our
students and campus every morning.
Tobe Johnson is Morehouse. He
was a young political science professor when I was a student; both
wee lads. Through his teaching and mentoring of students, he
is one of many who nurture our collective memory of the astounding
era of President Mays.
Ezekiel Phillips is Morehouse. He is a freshman who negotiated
the dangerous streets of South Central Los Angeles and survived a
few regrettable decisions. He saw Morehouse as his promised land.
A protégé of Tavis Smiley, Ezekiel has embraced the
ideal of a man of Morehouse and I have found him at 11:30 p.m. in
our Learning Resource Center studying with classmates. Ezekiel declares
that at Morehouse, he is surrounded by high-achieving men, and in
order not to stand out, he has to study and strive for excellence.
Josh Packwood is Morehouse. He is a graduating senior on his
way to Goldman Sachs on Wall Street. He happens to be Euro-American
and brings much appreciated diversity to our campus. Josh was one
of two Morehouse finalists this year for the Rhodes scholarship. But,
just three days before his interview, Josh’s father died. He
had every reason to lose focus and abandon hope, but true forever
to Morehouse tradition, he doubled his determination and represented
us with great distinction. Morehouse has enabled Josh to learn through
research tours to the London School of Economics and to China while
bonding with fellow students who will be lifelong friends.
Morehouse is its people and
its traditions. But, every year, 150 of our students are unable to
return to begin their junior or senior year solely because of financial
reasons. They’re smart enough to be here but, often, as little
as $5,000 separate them from their aspirations to become Morehouse
men. Thanks to the commitment and generosity of our terrific board,
Morehouse is working hard now to solve this challenge and we call
upon friends to assist in providing gap funding to help these students
cross the finish line.
People fortified by noble tradition are
empowered to dream, and dream big.
Consider three of our dreams. First, Morehouse
is the proud steward of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King
Jr. Collection. It is a treasure trove of 10,000 personal papers, books and
other memorabilia. Currently housed and cared for in the Robert W. Woodruff
owned with the Atlanta University Center Consortium—we dream of becoming
a national resource for materials on ethical dimensions of the civil rights
movement. We dream of housing Dr. King’s collection but,
in addition, preserving and presenting the memorabilia and archives
of other civil rights giants like Andrew Young, Joseph Lowery, Benjamin
Mays, Sam Williams, Maynard Jackson, Julian Bond, Amos Brown and
Howard Thurman. Dean Lawrence Carter and Professor Skip Mason have
been custodians of an extraordinary collection of College archives
that we are anxious to properly archive and share with the world.
Second, this Martin Luther
King Jr. International Chapel where most of us now gather is one
of the city’s most revered gathering sites for special events. Nelson
Mandela stood here and received 38 honorary degrees in one hour;
Bishop Tutu received $14,000 on the spot to continue his protest
against apartheid. Some of America’s greatest preachers have
stood behind our sacred podium. Great performers, such as Stevie
Wonder and Leontyne Price, have adorned this stage. Tonight,
our world-class Morehouse College Glee Club will raise the roof with
their powerful voices, along with the lovely mezzo soprano Denyce
Graves, in a free concert. But for all its glory, there are only
2,501 seats here. There are 2,850 men of Morehouse. Do the math.
If the president wished to gather and address the entire student
body, it could not happen here. So, we are dreaming of and planning
for a renovated and expanded chapel that will enable us to expand
our character development and moral education programs. We hope to
welcome you soon to a new revised standard version of the Martin
Luther King Jr. International Chapel.
Third, men of Morehouse deserve
a state-of-the-art student center with attractive new student housing.
We want to provide a wholesome and secure environment for college-appropriate
socializing. Our dreams and plans include transforming and
upgrading our campus to appeal to 21st century student expectations
and campus needs. But, with all of the structural modifications that
we look forward to making, the fundamental resource of Morehouse
College lies still in preparing its students to lead a global Renaissance.
Making Morehouse Men: Renaissance Men with a Social Conscience
Renaissance is an intriguing concept. It means ‘rebirth.’ Amidst
the difficult days of racial injustice during the early 20th century,
there emerged in Harlem, New York, a group of men and women who began
to document and celebrate the strengths, beauty, intelligence and
spirit of their people. That cultural phenomenon came to be
known as the Harlem Renaissance. That era gave the world Langston
Hughes, James Weldon Johnson and Zora Neale Hurston. They gave us
sophisticated explorations of black life and culture that revealed
and stimulated new confidence and pride throughout the village.
Producing Renaissance Men with a social conscience is a bold and
vitally important agenda in our contemporary cultural situation where
death and despair prevail. To become a Renaissance man is to become
broadly educated and conversant with the classic texts and the large
questions that define the disciplines in the arts and sciences. The
Renaissance man or woman should know these classics, but also should
interrogate the concept of classic to ensure that the canon of classics
expands to include all of the voices of great people who have been
excluded from the narrow Western roster of great texts. Renaissance
men will expand the canon while contributing to a revised global
canon of cherished human knowledge and achievement.
The social conscience is different
from but incorporates the personal, private conscience. The personal
conscience is the voice of morality and right reason that informs
us of what is right and good, true and praiseworthy for individuals.
However, many people possess a robust personal conscience, but do
little to relieve the suffering of others. They manage to live comfortably
with American opulence while most of the world lives in unspeakable
poverty and social misery. A social conscience is the living voice
of social justice that informs us of what is right and good and true
for society, not simply individuals. Morehouse’s Renaissance
men will possess an informed social conscience.
Dr. King called such people “transformed nonconformists” and
noted that “this hour in history needs a dedicated circle of
transformed nonconformists. The saving of our world from pending
doom will come not from the action of a conforming majority but from
the creative maladjustment of a transformed minority.”
Morehouse Men as Globalists
Morehouse Men will not only be conversant
with the classics and sensitive to social injustice, but they also
will become global citizens while transcending their own parochialism. To accomplish
this, we seek to dramatically expand opportunities for our American students
to travel outside the United States. A Ghanaian proverb declares: Do not say that
your mother’s stew is the best in the world if you have never left your
village. I want our Renaissance men to leave our villages
and to take Morehouse values of justice, peace, community and service
to the farthest edge of the world.
An important part of developing Renaissance
men is equipping them to be ‘globalists’ early in their careers. Consequently,
Morehouse will intensify its already admirable curricular progress
in the area of internationalization. Indeed, we will be a
global resource for educated and ethical leaders. This aspiration
is firmly rooted in our past, in the outlooks of visionary presidents
like John Hope, who traveled throughout Europe during the war to
check on black troops and to build bridges of understanding. It includes
the global ministry of Benjamin E. Mays, who served the World Council
of Churches and informed the global perspective of Dr. King and generations
of Morehouse students. It continued with Hugh Gloster’s efforts
to expand our overseas study program. I was the beneficiary of those
efforts and spent a year at the University of Durham in England.
And, it has continued with the recent appointment of President Emeritus
Walter Massey as chairman of the Salzburg Global Seminar and a member
of the global advisory panel for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Our intent is to diversify further our student and faculty ranks
as we prepare and challenge men of Morehouse to encounter a changing
From Making Light to Making Man
In my opening Convocation address, I focused on our College seal
and its Latin motto inspired by the creation narrative of Genesis, et
facta est lux (and then, there was light or “light was
made”). Out of the chaos and darkness of a cataclysmic Civil
War, our ancestors made light by founding Morehouse in Augusta,
The Genesis creation narrative continues beyond
the making of light to making the rest of the natural environment
and then to making humans. After the Creator gives shape to creation,
the Creator looks around and discerned that something was missing.
God confers with the gathered hosts and declares, “Let us make man.” In
order to complete creation, God declares, ‘Let us make
something new and special.’
Scholars have debated
the meaning of this unusual first person plural pronoun, “us.” To
whom was the Creator referring? Some interpreters suggest that this
is the heavenly host of cosmic and spiritual personalities. Some
Trinitarian theologians have suggested that this was addressed to
the Son and the Spirit. But, others believe that it was addressed
to everything that had been created because all creation was infused
with the divine essence. Under this hermeneutic or interpretive posture,
the Creator says to all that precedes man, and all that will be necessary
to sustain and support man as human, “Let us make man.”
But, in our current sitz im leben (Ger.) or situation in
life, there are forces that seem determined to unmake man.
I mention only three of them briefly, and how a Morehouse education
must equip Morehouse men to contest them.
First, the global crisis of personal commitment and family stability that
threatens our cherished relational and familial foundations. If we
cease to care for each other, if we lose the love of kin and of neighbor,
if we fail to prioritize reviving marriage, family and parenting
in black communities, then we will have gained the world materially
while losing our souls. We will have sacrificed the gift of family
and community on the altar of our narcissism and autonomy. Morehouse
Men will be educated to nurture children, families and communities.
Second, there is the global rise of violence in a multitude
of forms. From the senseless wars that dot the pot-marked earth to
the omnipresence of guns that enable people who are having bad days
to turn them into tragic days for others. Here again, Dr. King said
that it takes a strong person to practice nonviolence in a world
of violence and hatred. Morehouse Men will be educated as agents
of peacemaking and creative conflict resolution.
And third, the dehumanizing impact of technology typified
by the transformation of handheld technologies into virtual human
appendages. Novelist George Orwell and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick
warned of the mad evolutionary drift from primate to human to robot.
But, we must not allow this technology, wonderful and mystifying
as it may be, to dehumanize. Morehouse men will be educated to transform
technology into a tool that frees us to invest quality time in community
building and enjoying poetry, art, philosophy and, yes, Motown music.
These and other forces caused Benjamin Elijah Mays, our sixth president,
“I am uneasy about man because we have no guarantee that
when we train a man’s mind, we will train his heart; no guarantee
that when we increase a man’s knowledge, we will increase
his goodness. There is no necessary correlation between knowledge
The project of making man is
the ongoing work of the Creator. And that is the work to which Morehouse
is committed—making Morehouse men. But, clearly, Morehouse
cannot do this alone. There is a role for all of us to play
in making the Morehouse man.
board of trustees must facilitate this desired creation by providing
adequate resources and guidance to sustain our nascent renaissance.
The faculty must midwife new creation
as they lead courageous conversations about, and discovery of, the
global classics while also contributing to the wholistic development of Morehouse
Alumni must place their fingerprints
in the clay as they support the school’s mission and give of
their time, treasure and talent to ensure that our most vulnerable
students can complete the last mile of their journey.
The community and public must
affirm our creation by recognizing that education is a free society’s
best investment in the future strength of civil society and our political
economy. Enlightened policy and more resources must be devoted to
enabling students from low-income families to access higher education.
All of our fellow institutions
represented by delegates today must support this creation by striving
to be the best that they can be, thereby inspiring all others, and
by entering into partnerships that enable different institutions
to complement one another’s excellence.
Let all of us ‘make
That is why Dr. Mays was fond of quoting J.G. Holland who prayed:
God, give us men! A time like this demands strong minds, great
hearts, true faith, and, ready hands; men whom the lust for office
does not kill; men whom the spoils of office cannot buy; men who
possess opinions and a will; men who have honor; men who will not
lie; men who can stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous
flatteries without winking; tall men, sun-crowned, who live above
the fog in public duty and private thinking.
But, I like the way another anonymous poet framed the creative process,
When God wants to drill a man and thrill a man and skill a man,
When He yearns with all His heart to create so great and bold
a man that all the world shall be amazed; watch His methods, watch
How He ruthlessly perfects, whom He royally elects;
How He hammers him and hurts him, and with mighty blows converts
him into trial shapes of clay which only God understands.
And, while his tortured heart is crying and he lifts beseeching
How God bends but never breaks when our good He undertakes,
How He uses whom He chooses and by every
act fuses, by every act induces us to try His splendor out…God knows what He’s
So, today, let us remember dear old Morehouse…our traditions,
our people and our dreams; our pledge, our plea and our prayer. For,
God knows what we’re about.
Let us make men—men who in the face of fear and temptation
embrace the words of C.S. Lewis: “that courage is not
one of the virtues, it is the form of all the virtues at the moment
Let us make men…men who understand
that their strength is measured by the depth of their respect for
women and their desire to nurture children.
…Men who respect and celebrate diversity,
and are secure enough not to be intimidated by the presence of
different sexual orientations, but rather, stand in solidarity
with those who are in the minority.
…Men who know how to dress for leadership
and service, who will uphold the Morehouse mystique.
…Men who replace profanity with uplifting
discourse and life-giving spoken words.
…Men, confident, in the words of the poet Goethe, that “at
the moment of commitment, the entire universe conspires for your
…Men who heed the words of Rabbi Hillel that “the
world is equally balanced between good and evil and your next act
will tip the scale.”
Up, you mighty men, become co-creators of a better world!
Et facta est homo sapiens.