a tribute from Lee Walters

Dear Professor Blake,

I remember dozing in the back seat of an old car, driving through the piney woods of South Carolina and hearing you say, from the front seat, “Let the sister sleep.”  I may have feigned sleep at the time so as not to embarrass myself; I think I must have been snoring.  Honestly, you did not let me sleep.

You kindness and that long, long book list for your Status and Ethnic Groups class, and the opportunity to take risks, to experience the richness of life in low county South Carolina, to see up close and personal the depth and damage of discrimination, hatred and fear and the strength of a people’s determination to be free, were gifts beyond measure in my life.   You woke up a southern girl who had been raised on the teaching and hymns of the social gospel, sensing the truth that lie behind the words but shielded by a culture of politeness and segregation.  You helped me understand what it meant to embody that gospel.

You set my feet on a path that ten years later led to Union Theological Seminary in NYC where I learned systematic theology from Dr. James Cone and preaching from Dr. Jim Forbes.  The experiences you made possible for me in earlier years laid a strong foundation on which to stand as I gained a deeper understanding of my faith and how to speak of it.

Perhaps most importantly you helped open my eyes and my life to all manner of people. You helped me see the breadth and beauty of human life, the depth of human suffering and sorrow and to behold the power of love, the Great Mystery, source of us all.

Thank you sir.
With admiration and gratitude from
The sister in the backseat,
Lee Walters, Cowell 1971

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