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Opposing Views

IUPUI professor to discuss
churches’ reactions
to slavery in 1850s

Program is part of
Eleutherian College speaker series

(August 2013) – Eleutherian College was founded on a controversial idea. In 1854, the year the building that housed the college was erected, the thought of men and women, black and white, studying together was not widely accepted. Looking back it is easy to celebrate the courage of students and teachers who defied conventions, to honor those brave men and women in Lancaster, Ind., who stood against slavery and manned this station on the Underground Railroad.

Kaufman-McKivigan
Kaufman-McKivigan

However, it can be harder for modern visitors to the college grounds to understand that during those years, the idea of slavery was seen as a complicated moral issue.
Dr. Jack Kaufman-McKivigan explains that, just as families were often at odds fighting brother against brother during the Civil War, many churches found themselves facing similar divides. He explains, saying, “The biggest surprise in my research is that churchgoers in the North and South did not divide ‘cleanly’ over the morality of slavery, with some Northerners defending it or attempting to be ‘neutral,’ while a brave minority of southern whites spoke out against the institution at grave personal risk.” The churches around Eleutherian College would have been particularly divided.
“In southern Indiana, the issue frequently split congregations and even families into hostile camps,” as Kaufman-McKivigan says.
On Aug. 10, Kaufman-McKivigan will present “The Northern Church and the Moral Dimension of the Slavery Dispute” at Eleutherian College, located at 6927 W. State Road 250, north of Madison. The day will kick off with tours of the site from 1-2:30 p.m. with the talk to take place at 3 p.m. The event is free, with donations accepted at the door.
Kaufman-McKivigan serves as the Mary O’Brien Gibson Professor of American History at IUPUI and has published more than 20 books and edited an important multi-volume collection of the papers of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The presentation draws on many years of dedicated study.
“I have been researching this topic my entire academic career since doing graduate school work at Ohio State University in the late 1970s. I published a book with Cornell University Press in 1984 on the general subject but have continued to study this question as it related to different individuals and denominations before the Civil War.”
Kaufman-McKivi-gan said he is looking forward to his first visit to Eleutherian College, adding that he has “heard good things about its presentation of important aspects of Indiana history from members of Indiana Freedom Trails. It is an excellent site to discuss the Indiana antislavery movement as well as the Underground Railroad because of the role played by its original founders in those movements.”
His talk serves as the next to last event in Eleutherian College’s Public Programs summerlong series, which has included a variety of ways for guests to engage in ways of thinking about history, including a play and presentations by professional storytellers. The series will culminate in September with a Fall Celebration on Sept. 21.
This past year has been an exciting one for Eleutherian College. Board President and Executive Director of the Rivers Institute at Hanover College Larry DeBuhr explains, “It’s the first full year that Historic Eleutherian College Inc. has had to plan and implement events after its re-organization in 2012. A great deal has been accomplished in the past year.”
He highlights the re-installment of tours by school children and area visitors, the initiation of the Friends of Eleutherian College, a fundraising program that provides members with college news and free event tickets, and the completion of a physical facility maintenance and inspection plan as just some of the developments that have been taking place.
“We have expanded the Board of Directors and are starting to make connections in the broader community of people interested in the Underground Railroad and the history of anti-slavery activities.” This year’s Public Programs series has also presented an exciting collection of scholars and performers who have interpreted historical people and issues in an accessible way. Previous events in the Public Programs series have encouraged visitors to connect with history through dramatic presentations that work to bring people of the past out of museums and present them as living, complicated characters who are not so different from people today.
Similarly, Kaufman-McKivigan looks to have his audience connect with a complicated issue from the past. He believes this issue is not so different from any number of modern ethical dilemmas.
“I am trying to make this important part of antebellum history aware to modern-day Americans who often are faced with equally difficult moral choices,” he says. “I will be discussing the religious inspiration for much of the abolitionist movement and the ambivalent response of many of the Midwest’s churches’ to that difficult moral issue.”
Kaufman-McKivigan said his talk is designed to engage a wide variety of listeners and does not require a strong academic background in history in order to be enjoyed. “It would be easy for any one in the audience to draw parallels to similar modern-day moral dilemmas facing Americans, not just on matters of race.”

• For more information on the program, call (812) 866-7291.

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