Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Preacher & President: An Extraordinary Legacy

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Preacher & President: An Extraordinary Legacy

Article excerpt

Dr. Luns C. Richardson has the distinct privilege of being one of the nation's longest-serving college presidents.

And among presidents of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the ordained Baptist preacher has outlasted his contemporaries, taking the longevity mantle from Dr. Norman Francis, who retired in 2015 after leading Xavier University in New Orleans for 46 years.

Richardson, who has been at the helm of Morris College for 43 years as its ninth college president, is now calling it quits, stepping down from the beloved HBCU that was founded in 1908 in Sumter, South Carolina, and has been affiliated with the Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention of the state ever since.

It's the end of an era, particularly at a time when colleges are experiencing high turnover rates among their leaders.

Until 2014, Richardson had served for 56 years in a dual role as the pastor of Thankful Baptist Church, a small congregation, located in Bamberg, South Carolina.

That role of preacher as college president would later be emulated by Dr. Floyd Flake, who presided over Wilberforce University while pastoring Allen A.M.E. Church in Queens, New York, and the Reverend Calvin O. Butts III, who pastors Harlem's historic Abyssinian Baptist Church while leading the State University of New York at Old Westbury.

Despite Richardson's busy schedule as a religious leader, those who know him say that he has a firm commitment to the college.

"His legacy could be defined by his reputation as a hands-on president," says Dr. Marc C. David, who chaired the division of Religion and Humanities at Morris College from 2005 to 2013. "For example, Dr. Richardson insisted on interviewing every job applicant who visited the campus. During those interviews, he gave each candidate a history of the college, shared a personal story or two and tested the candidate's knowledge of the college's website. Afterward, he would wish the candidate the best and carry on with his day. If the applicant was hired, it was not uncommon for Dr. Richardson to extend his personal welcome."

A native of Hartsville, South Carolina, Richardson came of age as the nation was in the midst of racial turmoil. As a youngster, he made the three-and-a-half-mile walk to a two-room grammar school that was racially segregated.

It was at home, however, that Richardson was taught certain traditions that stayed with him even after he became a college president.

"Saying grace before meals and reciting a Bible verse before the evening supper was a family ritual," says Richardson, who was affectionately known as "LC" during his youth.

As the country was immersed in World War II, Richardson graduated from Butler High School in 1945 as class valedictorian and then went on to earn his bachelor's degree from Benedict College. Later, he earned graduate degrees from Teachers College at Columbia University and pursued additional studies at South Carolina State University, Rutgers University and the University of Tennessee.

Chaplain and teacher, Richardson also served as a high school principal before moving into higher education. He later worked at Benedict College, serving for 16 months as acting president, and was the executive vice president at Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina.

By the time he had settled in as president of Morris College in 1974, Richardson was eager to turn the school around but had no idea that his presidency would eventually stretch across four decades. …

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