The Race Project: Cedarville (Part One)
In this iteration of the Race Project we'll hear part one of a two-part story about racism, friendship and reconciliation that two students experienced while at an evangelical Christian college over 40 years ago.
Narrator: In 1979, Carl Ruby and Luke Mason became roommates at Cedarville University. Today, they are both pastors. Carl Ruby is white and Luke Mason is Black.
Carl Ruby: Cedarville was a bubble. And I think part of that comes from the fact that lots of things that typical college students do were off limits at Cedarville. So like going to clubs, going out dancing, going to bars or even going to the movies. And it was a very sheltered environment. I think that's why a lot of parents send their kids there. The first time I met Luke was when we were moving into the dorm. We lived in a dorm called Williams Hall. Luke was a very outgoing guy. He built a lot of friendships and knew lots of people. And other than the fact that he would stay up and type late at night, it was a joy to be his roommate.
Luke Mason: There were two reasons why I chose Cedarville. One was because a gentleman, Kenny Gaines, who led me to Christ was the R.A. in Cedarville.
Narrator: That's Luke Mason. His family made the nine hour drive to drop them off at Cedarville from their home in suburban Philadelphia.
Luke: The second reason was I wanted to get away. I did not want to be in Pennsylvania. I wanted to see what it was to live somewhere else. When I actually arrived this year, it was funny. It was completely a white setting. There wasn't any African-Americans there. We were standing in line and my parents were with me and my father's from Virginia. He could spot racism or prejudice or uncomfortability with the African-American being in the setting a mile away. He never stepped foot back on the campus the whole two years I was there. He never stepped foot back on Cedar Falls campus.
Carl: Luke was welcome because he voted Republican and to some extent, which was really trying to fit in and in a white world.
Luke: One of the things that was significant about me was that I refused to see racism even when I saw it. I tried to ignore it if I encountered it. I tried to find another reason for it. I was a Reaganite, theologically and religiously. On Jerry Falwell Moral Majority. I love America. I was a fully enlisted Reaganite. I actually felt that many of our African-Americans didn't have jobs because they were lazy. Race was never going to be an excuse for me. Race was never going to be an issue because it really was not real. So in all honesty, I was an “Uncle Tom.”
Narrator: Carl and Luke settled into freshman year and soon began to notice subtle examples on how their skin color would affect campus life.
Carl: And there are so many things that are a part of the culture at evangelical universities that white students and their families don't even realize are offensive. There was a form that was sent to parents actually before you arrived, and they had to sign off on whether you were allowed to date a person of a different race. I remember my parents getting it.
Luke: My parents would not sign it. Their attitude would have been, ‘Who do they think they are? That they could determine who I date or who I didn't date?’ And they often brought me into the office to discuss the fact that I would not send it to my parents to sign.
Carl: Luke would be like super bold. He would leave. I remember him walking up to a table in the cafeteria full of girls having lunch, and he's got this deep, nice voice. And he would walk up to the table and he would say, 'Excuse me, do any of you young ladies date Black men?' And so he was boldly family and looking for opportunities to date. I think that's where a lot of the resentment toward Luke came from, as it always has been. That's a line that the community pushes back on if Black person tries to cross it.
Narrator: Out of 1200 students at seat of those campus in 1980, there were only nine who are students of color. Like many students, Carl dated and eventually met his wife on campus. But for Luke, being a Black student didn't leave him with many dating options.
Luke: I became much more social in Cedarville in my second year. I did not date, but I was. I did have females that were friends and truly enjoyed the relationships that I had with them, actually, probably to the jealousy of some others.
Carl: Luke would have been able to eat with one of his female friends in the cafeteria. But if anything, that looked like they were becoming a couple. Being together, you know, often, certainly any physical, like holding hands would have been a big deal back then. That would have been a no no.
Narrator: Luke recalls hearing some sad comments and even being teased for his friendship with some of the white coeds on campus. Then on May 1st, while Luke was studying in his Williams Hall dormitory room, a group of white students, all men entered his room and perpetrated a hate crime.
Mason: It was in the evening, it was dark and they were all covered. You couldn't see who they were. Some in white, some in other types of coverings. That, of course, gave me the images of racism. And it was hurtful. I was being hogtied where my hands were tied to my legs. I begin to realize and feel that it was a racial act. I was thinking, Why are they doing this to me? And then they carried me out, put me in the trunk, drove me around the campus. Ultimately, after what they thought was a funny excursion, they grabbed me and pulled me out of the trunk. And then they took me and dropped me off in a woman's dorm. And when they dropped me, they dropped me on a marble table where both of my front teeth were. One was just broken and the other was cracked. Of course, I was embarrassed, as well as hurt physically and hurt personally. You know, I had to walk back to my dorm not knowing who did what.
Carl: I graduated in 83. I do not know why Luke didn't come back. We've never talked about that...
For 'Race Project: Cedarville (Part Two)' follow the link.
The Race Project is produced by Basim Blunt at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices.