PLAINVIEW - Dr. Estelle Owens, chairperson for the Division of Social Sciences at Wayland Baptist University, recently received special recognition for one of her pet projects as a paper she wrote on the life of former Wayland president Dr. J.W. Marshall was published in the Summer/Fall 2003 issue of Baptist History and Heritage .
Owens' work "Maximum Christianity Applied as well as Advocated: One Man's Fight Against Racism" takes a close look at Marshal, who served Wayland from 1947-52 and was instrumental in the school's progression from junior to senior college status as well as the voluntary integration of the school.
Owens, who personally interviewed Dr. Marshall at his home in California in 1976 a year before his death, has made a hobby of studying Marshall.
"I looked at his life," Owens said. "From the time he was a tiny little person, he vigorously opposed bigotry. His parents told him that racism was wrong. He grew up with Native American and black playmates so racism was not something he ever understood."
Owens was asked to present her work as part of a panel studying "Baptists on the Frontier" at a meeting of the Southern Baptist History and Heritage Society at The University of Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton last May.
"It really was a continuation of a paper I did a couple of years ago for the Texas State Historical Association on Wayland's integration," Owens said. "But this was more of a life study of (Dr. Marshall). Not just the integration of the college, but his lifelong fight against what he regarded as a moral evil."
Marshall was president when Wayland voluntarily opened its doors to minority students in 1951, becoming the first four-year, liberal-arts school to do so in the formerly confederate south. Other schools had been court-ordered to integrate, but none had done so voluntarily.
"He did it because it was the right thing to do," Owens said. "He believed you could defeat (racism) one person at a time. You couldn't beat people up to do it, but you could defeat it by demonstrating the Jesus ethic. The way he described it was 'maximum Christianity applied as well as advocated.'"
Dr. Marshall was highly criticized for his stance on integration, receiving threatening and vicious letters and postcards. Marshall didn't let that stop him, however, and his tenure at Wayland was marked with controversial decisions, including the one to ban smoking. Marshall was told Wayland would surely close its doors over that decision, but enrollment actually increased the next year.
"The man had some great ideas," Owens said. "His follow through was sometimes a problem. He was a fantastic idea man, but he was not a good administrator, and he would be the first person to admit that."
Owens appreciated the chance to present her paper at the gathering in Belton. She was excited that Dr. Charles Wade, director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, was in the audience and even asked her a question.
"I was so impressed and I actually knew the answer," she grinned. "I got to show off."
Owens, a professor of history, serves as Wayland's university historian.