Sewanee Crite prints

A few weeks ago, I made mention of some intaglio prints made by the African-American artist, Allan Crite, that depicted scenes from the Creed as imagined around Sewanee.

In that post, I asked:

I wonder, too, whether Crite’s original prints of the Sewanee Stations of the Cross might not be procured and displayed somewhere prominently?

Well, I’ve come to discover that, in fact, the originals are owned by Sewanee and on display at the School of Theology! I rode my bike over to have a look.




Inside Hamilton Hall, by the entrance to Hargrove Auditorium, the Crite prints can be seen in a large wooden, fairly recent frame. A surprise: in addition to the three I had posted in May was a fourth one, “Born of the Virgin Mary,” set by St. Luke’s and the old water-tower. In addition was the masthead of something called The Theo-log, published on May 1, 1953, with a prayer in Gothic lettering beneath it. I looked on the back of the frame, and saw it had been done in Mississippi, though when and at whose expense, I couldn’t say.




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Antigone in Columbia

It’s been a remarkable week or two– truly ten days that have shook the world. The Pope issued Laudato Si’ , the encyclical on global warming couched in the language of that holiest of men, St. Francis. The Supreme Court upheld a key tenet of the Affordable Care Act, virtually ensuring its never being repealed. And then yesterday, the court decreed that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States: “Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right,” as Justice Kennedy wrote memorably for the majority.

The overwhelming matter of the past few days has been the horrific shooting in the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The killer, an avowed white supremacist, had hoped to ignite a race war. “But God had other plans,” the President said in his truly astounding eulogy. The grace–the amazing grace– shown by the survivors toward this young man was both humbling and elevating to all Americans.

The Confederate flag has somehow become a critical issue in this discussion about race. Is it a symbol of heritage or hate? The politicians have dithered, as politicians do, waiting to run out in front of where the people are going and then claim to be leaders. It was ever thus.

In the meantime, those with clearer vision have acted. This morning, a young black woman named Bree Newsome climbed the 30-foot flagpole in front of the SC Capitol in Columbia. Police shouted for her to get down but she ignored them, reciting the Lord’s Prayer as she made her way toward the rebel flag that was padlocked in place.

At the top, she removed the flag and held it up. “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.” Newsome then made her way down the pole to the waiting police. “I’m prepared to be arrested,” she told them. She and her cohorts face a $5000 fine and up to three years in jail.

In Sophocles’ Antigone, the protagonist stands up to King Creon hwo has forbidden that her (admittedly treasonous) brother be buried. She does so nonetheless, and is brought before him.

Were you aware of the proclamation that forbade anyone from burying Polyneices?
Of course I did. Everyone did.
And you had the audacity to break that law?
Yes, because this was not a law decreed by Zeus, nor by Zeus’ daughter, Justice, who rules with the gods of the Underworld. Nor do I believe that your decrees have the power to override those unwritten and immutable laws decreed by the gods.
These are laws which were decreed neither yesterday nor today but from a time when no man saw their birth; they are eternal! How could I be afraid to disobey laws decreed by any man when I know that I’d have to answer to the gods below if I had disobeyed the laws written by the gods, after I died?

Newsome will probably spend time in jail. So did Antigone, and Nelson Mandela, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Henry David Thoreau, whose friend Ralph Waldo Emerson visited him, asking, “What are you doing in there, Henry?” “What are you doing out there, Waldo?” was his reply.

Posted in Bible, Boston, Classics, Drama, Emblems, Mythology, Poetry, Race, Saints, Slavery, The South, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Rebel’s Rest Archeological Site

Last week, Jerry Smith had to cut our meeting short at Stirling’s, as he was due to give the VC a tour of the Rebel’s Rest site. “OK if I tag along?” I asked. He assented and we hopped into his truck.

The first thing he showed we was a neat stack of bricks taken from the various fireplaces. Smith had spent done time tracking down the stamps. “They’re not all from the same company, which is curious.” No doubt there was some reuse over time.



I was poring over the bricks when the Vice Chancellor showed up. Smith pulled some plans out of his truck, and a baggy full of what? I couldn’t tell. Over we walked to the covered stand where the Rebel’s Rest porch had stood. “The wisteria is coming back strong,” said John. University archeologist Sarah Sherwood had joined us. “It’s already had to be cut back,” she laughed. In the meantime, Smith pulled out his plans.




“When Fairbanks built Rebel’s Rest, he used logs that had been sawn,” Smith said. He pointed to a long log set horizontally on top of a foundation right in front of us– it was clearly not dawn but hewn. “All in front of that,” he continued, emptying out the baggy, “was this.” Little bits of glass spilled out. Melted glass, he noted. Probably from the fire that burned down the Polk residence that occupied the site before the war.


In the area in front of the hewn Polk log there are modern pillars of poured cement, dating to 2002-3, when PPS workers had to crawl under Rebel’s Rest to set up supports and run wires and vents and such. Some are “signed.”



I suppose my favorite modern item is a time capsule the guys put under the porch. Who knew that every time we crossed the threshold into Rebel’s Rest in the past decade, we were walking over it?

On the right hand side, below where the kitchen had been, are the remains of a size able room, “Is that a natural outcrop down there?” asked the VC. Indeed, a large rock with a still running spring coming out from under it. “We even found the sump pump down there,” said Sarah, “still in functioning condition.” I wish I had asked to see it. The stone walls of this room showed evidence of burning on the wall. Not from the recent fire, Smith noted, or the 1860s one. A mystery.



There are lots of mysteries, in fact. For instance, right beside the spring, on a higher level, a carefully excavated square revealed what first seemed to be a staircase… which then ended in a perfect cement wall. Why? “How old is cement, anyway?” I asked. “Roman,” replied Smith. (Note to self: don’t ask stupid questions in front of the VC)

Closer to the parlor, where the old staircase had been, was this circular pattern of brick. What was it? “We have a lot more to excavate in this area,” said Sarah, “so we can’t just dig this up, much as we’d love to.” It’s interesting how part if the brickwork runs one edgy, and the other side goes another way. “Right now,” she goes on,”my pet theory is that it’s a spiral staircase to a Yankee speakeasy.” They’re saving this excavation for last–“dessert,” says Smith.


There are quite a few other items of interest in the vicinity, just beyond the housestead. What seems clear is that Fairbanks built on the old Polk home, which was probably not a humble one. All around us evidence, too, of livestock and poultry. There’s more in the woods toward Fulford, but I declined to go. The grass was tall and certainly full of chiggers, after all, and I hadn’t exactly been planning for a walk in the woods.

The Messenger reports this week that the archeology team is looking for volunteers– from what I’ve seen, there’s a lot to be uncovered still! Below are a few more pictures from my stroll around the site.




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Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not

I was toodling down Georgia Ave this morning on by bike when I heard bells suddenly starting to peel. Nothing unusual in that around Sewanee–to my right was the Breslin Tower, and beyond that the Shapard Tower of All Saints Chapel. But these bells were coming from my left. I looked over toward the front of St. Luke’s Hall to see this sight:




For some reason, there was a Mobile Carillon set up on the path. Inside, playing away was Ray Gotko, who ordinarily plays the carillon at All Saints. “This,” he said, “is the original definition of a contraption.” He didn’t have much a of sense of why it was there. “It’s annoyng,” he said. “Everything’s in the wrong place.” I shot some video of him playing but my phone ran out of storage space. I’ll try to go over in the next few days to catch Ray again. “It’s here all month,” he told me.


Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

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Semel et Semper

Above the door of Sessum Cleveland Hall in Sewanee is the following heraldic device:

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 8.06.25 AM

According to A General Armory of England, Scotland, and Ireland by John Burke and John Bernard Burke of London (as cited here), the Cleveland coat-of-arms is described as “Per chevron sable and ermine, a chevron engrailed counterchanged. Crest–A demi old man proper, habited azure, having on a cap gules turned up with a hair front holding in the dexter hand a spear, headed argent, on the top of which is fixed a line proper, passing behind him, and coiled up in the sinister hand.” Beneath the shield is the Latin motto, SEMEL ET SEMPER, “Once and Always.”

The motto is a nice once–alliterative and pithy. I really don’t get why there is a “demi old man” as a crest. Every time I look it up on Google, all I get are hits about Demi Moore, who has nothing to do with heraldry. (Actually, I do get that “demi” means that we only see his head and torso in the crest.) still, this requires more looking into!

Postscript. OK, according to the Encyclopedia Americana (1919), p. 549:

“The name Cleveland is, in truth, not the name of this great American family, but rather the designation of the immense estate they once possessed in England, where these folks were known as “De Cleveland of Durham, England. This French nobiliary predicate “de” formed a part of this family name up to the 13th century, some genealogists claiming their ancestry French and hence the French word “of” prefacing the name. The Clevelands have an armorial bearing which dates back to the remote period of the 12th century and the crest, which represents a spearman, is in token of Sir Guy de Cleveland, who commanded the spearman at the famous battle of PoiclienPoitiers of 19 Sept. 1356.”

I gotta say, this explanation seems retrofitted to the iconography rather than real. Why does the spear have an attached line? The old man looks more like a harpooner or spear-fisherman to me than a medieval warrior, especially in other renderings of the crest.

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Satchmo in Sewanee, and Others

10432938_306586762840720_1721412570865180331_nIf you go to the Ralston Listening Room in Sewanee’s duPont Library (and if you haven’t yet been, what is the matter with you?! It is one of the best places to listen to music in all of Christendom! see the picture to the right)–but if you do go, you will see propped on a shelf on the left-hand side the following item:


“To Charles Harrison,” it says, in green ink. “From Louis Armstrong.”  It is a photo of great interest for a number of reasons.

Fifty-five years ago yesterday (May 5, 1960), Louis Armstrong and his band gave a concert in Sewanee’s Juhan Gymnasium at the invitation of the Sewanee Jazz Society (who had previously hosted Dave Brubek and would later invite the Modern Jazz Quartet). The concert was a the hit of Spring Party Weekend, according to the Purple, with Armstrong’s band performing hits like “Sleepytime Down South,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” and “Where and When.”

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The final paragraph of the Purple article notes, Armstrong, noted for his violations of protocol (as in calling King George VI “Rex”) upheld his reputation while he was here. Dr. Charles T. Harrison asked him if he cared for coffee, milk, or water. Satchmo replied, “Daddy-o, I don’t want a thing.”

Oral tradition has the story a little differently, as Richard Tillinghast recounts in “Sewanee When We Were Young,” a long piece in his Sewanee Poems (and if you haven’t read it yet , what is the matter with you?! ):

The story of his exchange with his host, the never
Less than dignified Charles Harrison,
Is a Sewanee legend. The great jazz trumpeter,
Who arrived the day before the convert to rehearze
His band, was a guest at the Harrison residence.
Coming down the morning of the gig he is greeted
With the question: “How would you like your eggs,
Mr. Armstrong?” Armstrong comes back at him
In that melodious throaty bass of his:
“However you’re having yours, Daddyo.”

Both accounts focus on the best part of the anecdote–Armstrong calling the very proper English professor “Daddyo”–but Tillinghast recalls it happening “at the Harrison residence,” now Sewanee’s Italian House.  What is only hinted at here is that Armstrong was “a guest” of Harrison’s for a very particular reason–because, as a black man, he could not stay at the old Sewanee Inn.

As it happens, the New York Times published an essay by Joe Nocera just last week about Armstrong, who toured behind the Iron Curtain with his band as “cultural ambassadors,” just a few years after his Sewanee concert.  As Nocera notes, one of Satchmo’s most famous concerts took place in East Berlin around the time of the Bloody Sunday march in Selma. The East German reporters, Nocera writes, peppered him with questions about race relations upon his arrival. But he wouldn’t go there. Although his Iron Curtain tour was not State Department sponsored, one gets the sense that he didn’t want to bad-mouth America while in a communist country, that to do so in the middle of the Cold War would be disloyal somehow. At a news conference a few days before the concert — a clip of which was shown at the screening the other night — he sat grim-faced, smoking a cigarette, testily deflecting questions about how he was treated in the South.

ESCRU_Sewanee_Claramont_medAs a figure of some fame, Louis Armstrong’s treatment in the South at times was tolerable– he had found a comfortable place to stay with Charles Harrison while in town here. There are less pleasant stories about being refused a place in Sewanee, however.  A little over a year later, in September 1961, three African-American Episcopal priests staged a sit-in at the Sewanee Inn’s restaurant, the Claramont, run by Miss Clara Shoemate. Tradition of Hospitality on the Mountain, said the old neon sign on the highway.  The priests, who were on a “prayer pilgrimage” to the General Convention in Detroit, did not find the Claramont so hospitable.  We went up to the mountain to eat, Reverend Robert C. Chapman wrote of his experience. We went up to Hell.

Chapman’s article about the event in Black World/Negro Digest for August 1962 is a hard read but a worthwhile one, if only to see how deeply ingrained the Jim Crow mentality was at the time.  Bishop Juhan comes off poorly, I’m afraid, as do the college and theology students who, having gotten “somewhat beered-up,” get rather ugly. And it is especially painful to read of “a huge cross blazing on the lawn” behind the Inn. Flyers protesting the events were circulated shortly thereafter, with pictures of the participants as well as articles from the Chattanooga and Nashville papers are features. On the front of the flyer are reprinted three intaglio prints by Allan R. Crite.


What one sees here is a black Jesus, whose Stations of the Cross are taking place all around the School of Theology’s old buildings.  In the first panel, “Suffered Under Pontius Pilate,” one sees the back of the School, now St. Luke’s Dormitory, from the perspective of the old Dean’s house, now Sewanee’s Spanish House. The other two panels feature St. Luke’s chapel, now decommissioned, but at one time a spiritual heart of campus.

Sewanee Praise Spring 2015.pagesI thought of these images a few weeks ago, when I went to hear a different sort of spring concert than Satchmo’s so long ago, this one given by the University Gospel Choir in St. Luke’s Chapel.  Under the able leadership of Prakash Wright, himself a notable jazz musician, the Choir is made up of black, white, and Hispanic students and community members, and together they offer as a regular event some of the most joyous music I have ever heard on this campus.

“Music is the first thing to cross borders, ” Tillinghast writes in Sewanee When We Were Young. Half a century ago, students of the Sewanee Jazz Society did what they could to blunt the ugliness of Jim Crow by inviting to campus the most famous African-American musician of their day, the very same person the State Department would send as a cultural ambassador to East Berlin. In commemoration of the Sewanee concert, friends of mine on-line have even wondered whether a statue of Armstrong ought to be erected on University Avenue, which now only has a memorial  to a Confederate general.  I wonder, too, whether Crite’s original prints of the Sewanee Stations of the Cross might not be procured and displayed somewhere prominently?  But the greatest monument of all, I think, is in the living voices of the University Gospel Choir in St. Luke’s chapel–actually, this might be the best place to listen to music in all of Christendom.




Posted in Bible, Music, Poetry, Race, Sewanee, Statues | 2 Comments

“Talking, Talking, Talking”: Sewanee Senior Banquet Remarks 2015

If you are like me, and you find yourself stuck at a large banquet with some after-dinner speaker about to offer grandiose “Remarks,” you probably console yourself with the thought that, Well, the sooner he begins speaking, the sooner he’ll be finished. With any luck, that is true, though I have to say, you are not as lucky as last year’s seniors, whom I had the honor of being asked to address at this same banquet—a tornado warning that occurred at the very last minute granted them reprieve. (It’s true. At 6:27 last year, the Senior Banquet was cancelled, and the police made everybody move to the basement. You might recall that the Sewanee Children’s Center was located there at the time, so there were all of last year’s seniors with glasses of wine sitting at these little tables on little chairs) Alas, you all will not be spared the whirlwind of words. Let me start that whirlwind off, though, with an expression of sincere gratitude for the invitation to be with you here tonight as we recognize those who have shown such leadership on behalf of the Senior Class Gift Campaign, and, while it may be a bit premature, let me also offer an anticipatory congratulations to the Class of 2015.

What a year you have had as seniors, I can’t help but think. So many things have happened, globally and locally, and there has been so much for all of us to talk about. You came back late last summer to begin your final year here to a campus that looked markedly different than the one you had left behind in the spring. Over by Stirling’s and Humphries Hall, for instance, some old army barracks were replaced with brand-new townhouses as well as with something called a Social Lodge, a place that has already become a locus for constructive interaction. Likewise, many of you probably had not had a chance to see anything of it when you left last May except the exterior of the new Sewanee Inn; inside, as I’m sure you’ve heard, it has become an important part of social life on the Domain. Certainly I have had many a good conversation in it already, at a wedding last June for a new graduate, for instance, or over breakfasts and drinks with job candidates throughout the year (some of whom will be joining us this fall). Even just this weekend, a recent alum and I met at the Inn. “This place leaves me speechless,” he declared, and then he began to tell me about his post-graduate life for a few hours.

These happy changes did not come without competing sorrows. I am sure all of you were saddened when you came back for your senior year to see that a fire had left Rebel’s Rest a burnt and water-logged wreck. The absence of Rebels’ Rest on University Avenue is a palpable one for many of us, especially those on the faculty and staff who spent our first nights in Sewanee in one of its guestrooms. Though the wisteria that covered its porch can still be seen to bloom, the building is gone, no unlike that time of my life when I myself was a younger job candidate. The place exists only as a memory now, and discussions are just getting underway about what should be done with the location where it sat. Rebel’s Rest, after all, was built in a day long before there were electric lights; by contrast, its successor will have to be building that is not only WiFi-ready, but ready for whatever it is that will eventually and inevitably come after WiFi. The discussions that take place concerning this site at the heart of campus will have to be careful. They will have to balance issues of symbolism and pragmatism, to weigh the wistful against the useful, to negotiate commitments to the past as well as designs for the future. Something will be built there, no doubt, something we will all be proud of. But before we build, we have to talk.

That makes sense, of course, because dialogue is at the very heart of the university’s identity. What makes the liberal arts the liberal arts, and more importantly what Sewanee Sewanee, is the way we make a point of speaking with each other about things that matter. This past fall, you will recall, the film “The Obvious Child” was postponed to after the elections, an act that was called censorship by both the Sewanee Purple and the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. When it was eventually screened, it was the probably the campus’ most talked-about film of the year, as a rom-com about abortion probably should be. After Eric Metaxas’ convocation address in January, there was a loud back and forth discussion on campus and on-line about what he had said—while at times it seemed that more heat than light was generated, still I was happy to see positions staked out, questioned, defended, and seriously debated. Not everything that is said is meaningful, of course. Sometimes silences can be eloquent, too, as those of you may have participated in Friday’s Day of Silence can attest. But at times, we must speak up, speak out, and speak to one another, as you did–much to your collective credit–earlier this month, in a forum the IFC hosted, prompted by hateful remarks made at a fraternity in Oklahoma. My hope, and I’m sure you share this, is that with these efforts we are beginning to build a stronger community. As I say, we have to talk before we can build.

In a famous chapter from his 1941 memoir, Lanterns on the Levee, William Alexander Percy writes about his college days here that people who live in Sewanee [quote] “seem always to be leaning from the top of their tower, busy with idle things; watching the leaves shake in the sunlight, the clouds tumble their soundless bales of purple down the long slopes, the seasons eternally up to tricks of beauty, laughing at things that only distance and height reveal humor in, and talking, talking, talking— the enchanting unstained silver of their voices spilling over the bright branches down into the still and happy coves.” [endquote] Percy’s memories are drenched in nostalgia, of course, but he’s right about the talking. Still it’s worth saying something a little more about why we need to talk so much. Because it’s important to say that a place like Sewanee is not a place for empty chatter, but a place ultimately for contemplation and discernment. When we talk, we do so to get our thoughts straight, to put into words what we think and feel and most deeply believe, and we listen as others do the same thing. In our conversations in classrooms, in dorm rooms, over caffeinated drinks and other kinds, we are most happy when we sense that the sparks fly, the neurons fire, the complacency shakes off, and the light now and again breaks through.

Isn’t that the reason all of us wanted to be in Sewanee, after all, to take part in discussions that were worth having, to be involved in things that were worth being involved in? Over the past several years, I have had many Facebook chats with friends from Sewanee, but two recent conversations stand out. In each instance, the alum was angry over events taking place at Sewanee. One declared not give any money in response to the Cliteracy exhibit, the other said something similar about the appearance of former Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez. Both spoke in the anger of the moment, but I think neither of them will make good on their threats –to take their bat and ball and go home is neither one’s inclination about this place. YSR runs a little too deep in their blood, as does their devotion to their alma mater. Distance and height will reveal the humor in things, and they will not remember having said such things next time we meet here on the mountain, trust me.

For some here tonight, it may be quite some time before you’re back to the mountain after graduation. When you return, some old buildings will be gone that you are bitterly going to miss, some new ones will be built that your generosity will have had some part in constructing. In a similar fashion, the students who come after you will have conversations of their own, subjects they will feel the need to debate, speakers and exhibits they will want to host or protest. Some of what happens you may not like. But they will be young, as you are now, and as you are now, they will be intelligent and intense. And at some point they too will grow up and become alumni of the University, as you are bound to be in just three Mondays from today, when the Vice-Chancellor will have bid you farewell in Latin as Iuvenes dilecti et nunc exornati. All I ask is that you “chosen and now honored youths” have some patience with the whipper-snappers that follow you. Let them talk, in fact encourage them to do so, and listen with forbearance to them too. And let us continue to talk as well, in the few weeks that are left to you as students, and in the many years to follow when life will take you God only knows where as alumni. Be sure to stay in touch, because your alma mater will miss you. And that is all I have to say.

Monday, April 20, 2015, Cravens Hall, University of the South, Sewanee, TN


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