Prof. Bartling’s Story

Living in the deep South during the Civil Rights Revolution, Professor Bartling learned to distinguish between American Ideal and American Reality. “Shaped by History,” a document written by Prof. Bartling in 2008, is a historical look at how that experience shaped him and  his developing and teaching  of African-American and Women’s American history.

 SHAPED by HISTORY, written by Dr. Rev. Fred Bartling, 2008

Ruth and I  attended the 2006-2007 History Forum lectures  sponsored by the Minnesota Historical Society –  six lectures presented by prestigious historians with the unifying theme: “America’s Struggle With Ongoing Freedom”.   The concluding lecture (3-3-07) made me aware of what  I already understood, namely,  major themes in  my teaching of  American history were shaped  by personal experiences between 1959 and 1961. I was pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Auburn, Alabama – a town-gown parish alongside the campus of Auburn University.  The lecture titled “Organizing Freedom:  The Freedom Riders” was delivered by Professor Raymond O, Arsenault, the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg.  The lecture handout stated “that the freedom riders in the spring of 1961 put their lives on the line to fight segregation in the South (and) although widely criticized at the time, indelible images of their courage and faith in democracy forced a hesitant federal government to challenge Jim Crow and galvanized a movement for justice across the nation”. Six of the Freedom Riders were guests of the forum and related their experiences. My  experience in the South was directly impacted by  the Freedom Rides as well as by other events or personal experiences in the wider context of The Civil Rights Revolution.  My graduate studies in the mid- sixties through the early seventies at the universities of Minnesota and North Dakota included  an emphasis on the history of the South and also more broadly topics related to “America’s Struggle With Ongoing Freedom” –  a  range of topics relating to American history.  The themes of my teaching  American history were shaped importantly by personal experiences in the South.


From the fall of 1953 until the fall of 1958 we made our home in Pullman, Washington. I served as the founding pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church , a town-gown parish serving  students, faculty, and staff at Idaho and Washington State Universities and members from the surrounding area.  I took history courses at Idaho University and subsequently enrolled in a master degree program in history at Washington State University. Area of concentration was European history focusing on the Reformation Era with a minor in the History of Philosophy. Coursework included several courses in American history but this was not my primary focus.

The Eisenhower administration witnessed the onset of  a revolution in American race relations after years of injustice. After the era of Reconstruction  political, educational, and social rights of African Americans were circumscribed in a segregated Southern society  buttressed by the force of law. The 1896 decision  of the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Frguson upheld  in racial relationships the constitutionality of the “separate but equal doctrine.” The years between 1954 and 1965, however, would  witness the decline and eventual death of  Jim Crow segregation.

I recall my reaction on May 17, 1954 upon hearing that the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision declared that in the area of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal’ has no place.” Citing sociological and psychological findings that even if facilities were equal in quality separated by race they would engender feelings of inferiority. I remember being in the parsonage garden thinking: “It’s about time,” One year later the court- directed full compliance with school desegregation should move “with all deliberate speed.” Later my lectures observed that for the conservative white south this meant “when hell freezes over.” The white South’s initial response was relatively calm with token integration in the border states. In the Deep South and Virginia by the end of 1955 the reaction was intransigent. “Massive Resistance” became the rallying cry of newly organized White Citizens Councils and state legislatures attempting to interpose their power against the courts and the schools.  In 1956 101 southern members of Congress issued a “Southern Manifesto” denouncing the Court’s decision as an “abuse of judicial power.” In six southern states in 1956 not a single black child attended an integrated school.

The Civil Rights Revolution took a new turn on December 1, 1954 when Rosa Parks refused to obey a Montgomery, Alabama local ordinance requiring blacks to give up their bus seat when requested by a white. Black reaction resulted in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the emerging leadership of Martin Luther King, the twenty-six year old pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The Supreme Court in 1956 agreed with a lower court ruling that the Montgomery bus ordinance was inconsistent with the  ruling regarding the “separate but equal” doctrine. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was organized in 1957 under the leadership of King to keep alive the spirit of the bus boycott. That same year Orville Faubus, the governor of Arkansas, called out the National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering Central High School in Little Rock. A Federal court had ordered the enrollment of the students.  Eisenhower ordered federal troops to protect the students and placed the National Guard under federal control. That same year the first civil rights act since Reconstruction provided for a Civil Right Commission in the Justice Department to issue injunctions when voter registrants experienced undue interference in their right to vote. From 1954 to 1957 Southern white conservative intransigent insistence on preserving Jim Crow resulted all three branches of the Federal Government attacking and undermining Jim Crow.


Awarded a Danforth Grant in 1958 I resigned my pastorate and enrolled in Yale University-Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. During the school year of 1959 I completed researching and writing the master thesis Luther and the Turk.  Although increasingly sensitized during the fifties to the issue of civil rights and the “Struggle For Ongoing Freedom” my academic direction remained Reformation history and Luther research.  On one occasion Martin Luther King, Jr. came to deliver an address in the Divinity School chapel.  On a campus tour he was shown the library study area. I happened to be studying when King entered. Later that afternoon I heard him deliver an address in the chapel. King and I are contemporaries with respect to age. He was born  January 15, 1929 with my birth a half-year earlier on June 3, 1928. Our similar age has led me to marvel at his remarkable contributions within a brief life span.


Ruth and I with Victoria and Frederick left New Haven, Connecticut in August 1959 with Auburn, Alabama our destination. Not having visited Ruth’s parents in Austin, Texas for some time we traveled there first by way of New Orleans. I had made an appointment to meet with the pastor I was succeeding in Auburn. After our meeting  to discuss the pastorate in Auburn we spent the evening in the French Quarter. Boarding a bus, even though  knowledgeable regarding Jim Crow laws and associated mores and social custom at the abstract level,  I did not make application to myself. Marching to the back of the bus I took my seat. My colleague graciously joined me. Later that evening over coffee he gently asked me whether I was aware of my breech of Southern law and custom. My proper place, he noted,  was reserved in the white only section in the front of the bus. I recall my sudden realization of the implications. Increasingly my attention focused on the reality of Jim Crow and the separate water fountains, restrooms, and seating areas in bus depots. After our visit in Texas we drove to Auburn little aware of the far-reaching implications the next two years living in the deep South would have upon my understanding of American history.  This would impact directly both approach and content  of my lecturing at Concordia.

My installation was scheduled for Sunday Afternoon, October 4, 1959. In preparation for the service, I was asked to send invitations to Missouri Synod clergymen in Alabama. Without any thought of the distinction between black and white parishes, I sent the invitations to all the pastors. One of the pastors who received an invitation was Rev. Joseph Ellwanger. He was a white pastor of a black congregation in Birmingham. Ellwanger was the son of the President of Alabama Lutheran Academy and Junior College, an institution of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod dedicated to the education of African-Americans. He had been raised as a white youth in this largely black community. Rev. Ellwanger, rightly so, responded to the invitation by bringing with him members of his congregation’s laity. Shortly before the service began agitated ushers came into the sacristy and told me several black gentlemen were in the vestibule waiting to be seated. They asked me what I should be done. I suggested they be seated in the back pew. What a pity that such a question and such an answer was necessary to address the situation. The presiding minister of the service was the president of the Southern District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Participating liturgists were the District Mission Secretary and Circuit Counselor. Three of my fellow clergy present included Rev. Joseph Ellwanger. The next day professors of the congregation were questioned by their colleagues regarding the event. Is your pastor a Yankee radical fresh from Yale University?


A short time after the installation service a black gentleman came to our home. He requested that I come to Tuskegee Sunday afternoons and conduct worship services for his family and others. He informed that he was a professor at Tuskegee Institute. He had received his doctorate at John Hopkins University. Later I became aware that shortly before coming to Auburn he had requested membership in the congregation where I was now pastor. The request was not granted. Occasionally I conducted services in his home and usually took my family with me. Tuskegee is a convenient twenty-five miles from Auburn. Ruth recalls that during the “sit-in” movement of 1961 she overheard him asking rather casually: “Well now, how are the sit-ins coming along?” Here I was confronted with the reality that Jim Crow social mores were also reflected in Southern Christian churches. And the church body I served was no different. During my pastorate some encouraging new direction to more open and integrated fellowship was charted. In context I will discuss this as it relates directly to a specific experience at Tuskegee Institute.

Early weekday mornings we heard loud jocular chatting across the street from our apartment. African -American women gathered there after rides to town from the surrounding countryside. Working as housekeepers they served the white Auburn community. During Ruth’s pregnancy prior to Catherine’s birth she felt the need for help cleaning our apartment.  At lunchtime the first day of her employ we invited her to sit and have lunch with us. She joined us but it became obvious she was very uncomfortable. This was clearly naïve and misplaced even though a genuine friendly gesture on our part. What she might feel after a lifetime nurtured in the Jim Crow socio-cultural setting should have dissuaded us from inviting her to join us at a shared table. Such invitations were not repeated. I drove her home in the country with her seated in the back. Catherine was born in nearby Opelika, Alabama.  I recall the segregated waiting rooms where I awaited news of the arrival of our third child. That hospital was segregated with white and black wings.


In the summer 1960 I was invited to serve as a Bible topic discussion leader at a week-long black youth retreat at Alabama Lutheran Academy and Junior College in Selma. This institution was renamed Concordia College Selma in 1981, accredited as a Junior College in l983, and in 1994 accredited as a four-year degree granting institution. The origins of Concordia are the direct result of the efforts of Rosa Jinsey Young, educator and founder of schools in rural Alabama for African-American people.  Rosa had a long and meaningful life working tirelessly in behalf of Lutheran education. She was born May 14,1874 and died at the age of 96 on June 30, 1971, With the support of pioneer Lutheran missionaries she was responsible for the beginning of Lutheran outreach to African- Americans in Alabama. Rosa Young was a precocious student who pursued her childhood dream of becoming a teacher. Disenchanted with the public school system she opened her own school in 1912 at Rosebud, Alabama . Two years later enrollment reached 215. Attendance declined and teacher’s salaries could not be paid due to the boll weevil blight. She asked Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee for advice. He suggested she contact the Board of Colored Missions of the Missouri Synod in St. Louis.   A missionary was sent in 1916 and with synodical support the school was rescued and the work flourished. Lutheran missions spread throughout the area and by 1929 there were 29 congregations and 30 schools providing Christian education for African-American students.  In 1919 an area conference petitioned the Synodical Conference (Missouri, and Wisconsin Synods) for funds to build a school for training professional church workers. Selma, Alabama was selected as the site for the school and was known as Alabama Lutheran Academy and Junior College,  In 1962 the Synodical Conference transferred the school to the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod  Rosa Young served as matron of the school and member of the faculty. It was in this role that I met her in 1960. Rosa Young is remembered with a spiritual iconic image in Lutheran missionary work among Southern African-Americans.

My topic at the black youth retreat was based on “The Gifts of the Spirit” outlined by Paul in Galatians 5: 23. One day Rosa Young was in attendance.  At that time I was not fully aware of her importance for Lutheran mission endeavor among Southern blacks. This became clear to me before leaving the South one year later. Pastor Joseph Ellwanger served as organizer and director of the youth retreat. One afternoon our entire group of some fifty youth and two white pastors went on a long walk into the countryside. Our objective was to visit the farm of a successful black farmer to demonstrate what results from hard work and self-sufficiency. This was, of course, illustrative of the approach of Tuskegee Institute’s Booker T. Washington to show Southern Blacks how to live the reality of Jim Crow’s racial, social, and political segregation. After visiting the farm we walked along the highway and came across a field where the remains of Civil War trench breastworks were clearly visible. Continuing our walk along the highway we were suddenly stopped by police officers. They obviously knew Pastor Ellwanger and his leadership role with black youth. They inquired with a phrase clearly suggestive of Jim Crow realities and the tactics of intimidation and fear: “What is this nigger march all about?” They put Pastor Ellwanger in their patrol car and took him to police headquarters in Selma for grilling and harassment.. Later that day he was released. I recall my conversation that evening with Ellwanger’s mother who was the wife of the president of the Academy and Junior College. I asked: “How can one respond to this intimidation?”  She answered with frustrated resignation: “What are we to do?”  Indeed, what would be possible without successful legal, cultural, and social reshaping of Jim Crow.


On another occasion the Selma Academy and Junior College served as host for a white pastors’ retreat. What comes to mind is the poignant memory of a long string of cars winding their way through the pine forests of Wilcox County immediately south of Selma. This had been the center and very heart of the southern “Black Belt” with a rich and turbulent history of slavery, slave trade and “King Cotton.”  Today cotton fields have reverted to impressive pine forest inhabited by a predominantly black population living in humble but picturesque clapboard dwellings. Our caravan was on its way to visit the home of Rosa Young who lived there with a sister. Our motorcade stopped at her home and some thirty white preachers came to honor the black matriarch saint respected as pioneer and founder of Lutheran black missions in the South. We gathered in front of her porch where she and her sister made an appearance. After speeches in her honor she passed a basket so we preachers might make an offering in support of black missions. After our visit with Rosa Young we visited various schools and churches in the area. All very impressive. One church building, as I recall, was quit new and most attractive led by a bright young black pastor. He had just recently buried his mother and laid her to rest nearby. One of the white district officials asked whether he had applied for a proper burial permit. The response was negative. My reaction was immediate, as I recall, feeling that this was an insensitive query and the less said the better.


During the few years we lived in the South important steps occurred leading to the death of Jim Crow.  King’s “militant nonviolence” drawn from Christian ethic and Ghandian nonviolence proved pivotal. Entrenched patterns of southern racial segregation were challenged on various fronts. The first mass movement in African-American history commenced on February 1, 1960 when four southern black students staged a “sit-in” demanding service at a “whites-only” lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina .A movement led by black and white students grew rapidly with the organization of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) cooperating with King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The “sit-in” movement spread rapidly and when brutally attacked the protesters refused to retaliate.

In the spring of 1961 the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sent black and white “freedom riders” on buses to test a federal court ruling that banned segregation as unconstitutional on buses, trains, and terminals.. “Freedom Rides” on the “Freedom Bus” continued throughout 1961.  Violence resulted when Alabama mobs in June attacked the travelers, burned a bus, and assaulted Justice Department officials. This violence occurred close to Auburn in nearby Anniston, Birmingham, and Montgomery. This violence so close to home aroused anxiety among the white citizenry of Auburn. The white clergy in Auburn organized a joint service of Confession and Repentance for all the churches in Auburn.  Outside the Methodist Church where the service was held the National Guard provided protection. I was asked to participate.  Strictures of the Missouri Synod warning against the dangers of worship with those not in altar and prayer fellowship with the synod did not deter me. I joined fellow clergy with my participation. Attorney General Robert Kennedy played a large role applying federal pressure to uphold court rulings that had barred segregation on buses, trains, and depots. I recall having him in mind when I traveled to New Orleans via Jackson and McColm, Mississippi. In both places arrest or violence against the Freedom Riders had occurred. Pressured by Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the Interstate Commerce Commission segregation on buses was outlawed that fall. The lecture handout of Raymond Arsenault’s lecture “Organizing Freedom: The Freedom Riders” summarized the results of the sit-ins as forcing “a hesitant federal government to challenge Jim Crow and galvanized a movement for justice across the nation.”


My experiences in Tuskegee were valuable a few years later when preparing lectures for an African-American history course at Concordia. Several occasions we visited the museum at Tuskegee Institute. Artifacts and mementoes of George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington were prominently displayed. As a schoolboy in the thirties we were taught that Carver was a famous black scientist and inventor who discovered many uses for the peanut. These were the years when the cotton bowl weevil devastated cotton production. We were taught nothing about slavery or Jim Crow. Pictures in our geography book showed contented blacks in the fields picking cotton. Certainly deserving praise Carver was a respected botanist, inventor, and innovator of agricultural science. Diversity of crops generally and especially protein rich peanuts and soybeans would enhance the diet and provide for rich soil enhancement. His work revolutionized the Southern economy from dependence on cotton. School extension programs brought practical agriculture to the southern farmer.

Carver’s colleague Booker T. Washington, son of a slave mother and white father, led to the founding of Tuskegee Institute in 1881 . Washington advocated vocational and mechanical education for blacks in the South to establish an economic foundation for southern African-Americans. He was pragmatic and skillful in accommodating to the many social realities of Jim Crow segregation. He conspicuously omitted reference to politics as it might appear to conservative whites that he endorsed segregation. In responding to the new racist measures and the doctrine of “separate but equal” blacks in the South faced the necessity of accommodating as best they could. Washington’s rhetoric was shaped to what the conservative whites wished to hear. Behind the scene he clandestinely worked to undermine Jim Crow. Today Tuskegee University is diverse and integrated. Five colleges with 64 BA programs are offered to over 3000 students. Master degree programs as well as a School of Veterinary Medicine broaden Tuskegee’s curricular offerings..

Washington, however, was sharply criticized and still often today for sacrificing a broad liberal education and the cause of civil rights. W.E.B.DuBois led black criticism of Washington in fostering integration through “ceaseless agitation.”  Under the leadership of DuBois the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed and emphasized legal action to bring the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to reality. Eventually their endeavor resulted in the Supreme Court decision of 1954 declaring “separate but equal” doctrine unconstitutional. The contrast of Washington’s “accommodation” to Jim Crow  contrasted with DuBois’ insistence on “integration”  were important contrasts described  in my African-American History course.



The first joint conference of black and white preachers of the Southern District met on the Tuskegee campus. Jim Crow was still reality and the Institute provided a setting where black and white pastors could gather without undue scrutiny or harassment.  We were housed in campus dormitories.  Meetings were held in campus classrooms.  I served as homilist for an evening devotion. This meeting was another important step in the integration of black and white churches and clergy. Today the Southern District is integrated and black seminarians receive their training at the Synod’s St. Louis and Fort Wayne seminaries. The Board of Black Ministry serves as the Synod’s commission overseeing the particular needs and opportunities of black ministry.


Hindsight makes it clear my experiences in the Jim Crow South would nudge the direction of my graduate studies.  At the time, however, academic attention focused on completing the master degree at Washington State University. The emphasis was a major in European and Reformation history and a minor in the History of Philosophy.  Early in 1961 I traveled by train to Pullman for a thesis defense. Our family left Auburn and the  South in late summer 1961. I accepted a position to teach at Concordia Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota. Course preparation for religion, church history, and American history courses demanded my focused attention those early years.  My knowledge of American history from prior study was further deepened  preparing  for academy classes. Close attention to the ongoing Civil Rights Revolution was shared with academy students as each Friday we reviewed the contents of Time Magazine.


We read in 1962 that Governor Ross Barnett rejected a court order to allow enrolling James Meredith at the University of Mississippi. Attorney General Robert Kennedy dispatched federal marshals to enforce the law. Federal troops intervened when the marshals were assaulted. Meredith was finally registered. The spring of 1963 Martin Luther King with black activists and white supporters carried out nonviolent demonstrations in Birmingham protesting prejudice and segregation of parks and stores. Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor employed dogs, tear gas, cattle prods, and fire hoses on the protestors. Outraged Americans watched and Birmingham was labeled America’s “Johannesburg.”  While jailed during the demonstration King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a classic defense of nonviolent civil disobedience strategy.  Recognized as the  high point of the Civil-Rights Movement The March on Washington united blacks and whites on August 8, as they marched down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial singing “We shall Overcome.” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech stands as one of the most eloquent of the century. But Southern Traditionalists remained steadfast. Governor Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to block enrollment of several black students. He stepped aside at a federal marshal’s insistence. That evening President Kennedy spoke eloquently on the moral issue of racial injustice because of skin color.

One of the black laymen present at my installation service was Mr. Chris McNair. His eleven year old daughter Denise was one of the four youths killed in the bombing on September 15th, 1963 at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. This church was an important meeting place in the African-American community during the Civil Rights Movement.  Members of the White Citizens Council associated with the KKK wished to instill fear in those supporting equal rights without regard to race. A few days prior the courts ordered the desegregation of Birmingham schools.  Several days after the bombing the notorious retired Birmingham Chief of Police Bull Connor insisted the Supreme Court and the Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954 caused the death of the children. The bombing led to public outrage and spurred a turning point in the Civil-Rights Movement. It subsequently became clear that the FBI under Hoover’s direction withheld key evidence from the prosecutors. The government closed the case in 1968. Only many years later was the case reopened and four perpetrators brought to justice. Later when teaching African-American history  my oblique connection with this tragedy was uppermost in my mind.


As a memorial to the late President Kennedy President Lyndon Johnson with Dr. King at his side signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964 with bipartisan support .  This far-reaching civil rights measure banned discrimination in public accommodations, guaranteed voter registration and voting rights, provided for government intervention to support school integration, and a ban on job discrimination by race, religion, national origin, or sex. Early in 1965 King announced a drive to enroll the 3 million blacks in the South who had not registered to vote. Black citizens of Selma, Alabama experienced discrimination and intimidation when  registering to vote. A march from Selma to Montgomery was planned to ask Governor Wallace to protect the black registrants was rejected. Marchers were attacked by state and local police with clubs, tear gas, and bull whips at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday March 7th. Watching the bloody pictures the nation roused itself for the Civil Rights Movement. I remembered that bridge having crossed it several times. A federal judge upheld the right of the SCLC to petition for redress of grievance . The state could not block marches. Arriving in Montgomery on a subsequent march King was not allowed to speak from the top of the capitol steps. Jefferson Davis stood there when taking the oath as president of the Confederate States. A gold star marks the spot. I remember standing on that very spot. King gave his speech from a temporary platform below the steps. Five months later President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


         In 1964 I enrolled in graduate school with the goal of a terminal degree in American history . The next seven years of study led to goal achievement with the DAT degree from the University of North Dakota in May 1973.  These years were a continuation of the tumultuous Sixties resulting in a social and societal revolution that rocked the nation. The disenfranchised in white, male-dominated, heterosexual America generated various movements that demanded inclusion in all things political, social, and economic. One may recall, to name a few,  the youth culture rebellion against societal authority symbols,  the emergence of Black Power in urban America,, the gay rights movement, the anti-Vietnam peace movement,  the women’s movement,  and movements for Chicano and Native American rights.  Each movement in its own way was a passionate cry for social justice and insistence that American idealism find realization in American societal fact.   Engaged in my studies during those years I was basically in tune with the reformist insistence that equality and social justice reflect in practice traditional American idealism.

            From 1964 until l970 I enrolled at the University of Minnesota taking one and occasionally two courses each quarter as well as summer sessions.  These courses helped me prepare lectures after joining the Concordia College faculty in 1967. I was influenced most profoundly by Dr. David Noble. Without question he was my most influential teacher serving as mentor in shaping my understanding of American history. His academic specialty was American Intellectual History. He also taught courses treating the American South.  A brilliant lecturer with a sharp wit and cutting edge I listened with rapt attention taking copious notes which are prized and to which I often refer. Transcript review indicates my attendance in a 9 hour lecture sequence surveying American Intellectual History with an additional 6 hours in a seminar setting. Nobel also offered a three course sequence surveying the History of the American South.  After completing that sequence he guided me for an academic year of Directed Studies of Readings in Southern History and Culture. Another course impacting my understanding of American History was a seminar in American Studies taught by Dr. Mary Turpie. She is honored as a visionary in developing a new academic discipline, American Studies. It drew from America’s past and present from a holistic viewpoint using insights from the Social Sciences and Philosophy.

In the summer of 1971 I enrolled in the Doctor of Arts in Teaching program at the University of North Dakota.  My interest in teaching American history was that of a generalist rather than of a narrowly focused specialist. The 1972 academic year I served as Teaching Assistant for the Director of the DAT Program. Coursework covered all of American history with a nineteenth century specialization. In the summer of 1972  I completed education courses. That fall I taught an evening course at Normandale Junior College completing a required teaching internship.

Classes at Concordia were arranged for morning sessions. In the afternoons I wrote my doctoral research paper in the Macalester Library and continued writing as well many evenings at my college office. The Freedmen’s Bureau and the Problem of Reconstruction History is the history and analysis of historians’ scholarship in the writing of Reconstruction history. After the Civil War four million former slaves became the wards of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The Bureau was concerned with relief for freedmen and refugees, administering justice and supervising the beginnings of free labor, and establishing schools for the freedmen. The study showed that the freedmen and the racial question was the crux to the interpretations of the Bureau and Reconstruction. Late nineteenth century zeitgeist viewed blacks as ignorant and racially inferior. Interpretations until late in the Thirties resulted in the Myth of Reconstruction, that is, evil Scalawags and Carpetbaggers, vindictive Radicals, and ignorant Freedmen in control. It is this view I was taught in high school. Altered views on the racial question since the Thirties and Forties led historians to adopt the scientific view of the relationship of heredity and environment and its influence upon race, class, and intelligence.  Nineteenth and early twentieth century emphasis upon heredity suggesting black racial inferiority was rejected. Historical interpretations would be reshaped.  The Freedmen’s cause was rehabilitated and the Myth of Reconstruction rejected.  Today Reconstruction and the Freedmen’s Bureau are viewed as a noble legacy and a unique episode at a unique moment in the prolonged process of change and adjustment to emancipation. Reconstruction was a troubled effort to build an interracial democracy after emancipation. It turned out to be an unfinished revolution witnessed by my own experiences in the segregated South ninety years later during the Civil Rights Revolution.


The summer of 1973 after receiving my degree I enrolled at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul. Psychology of Women was offered. It was my intention to prepare a course dealing with women in American history.  The registrar was initially startled that a male wished to enroll.  The class comprised about forty women and one male student. The following school year Ruth and I attended a course at the University of Minnesota dealing with women’s issues and the role of women in American history.

A new feminism urged by the logic of liberation and the American ideal of equality and justice during the Sixties led to the emergence of a powerful women’s-rights movement. The moral inspiration and tactics of the Civil-Rights Movement informed the new feminism. My study of American history made clear  that the Nineteenth Century reform movements of the Eighteen Thirties and Forties led to both the anti-slavery-abolitionist  and women’s rights movements. Issues of race and gender are strikingly similar. Legally a woman’s status in the ante-bellum period remained much as it had been in the colonial era. Women did not have the franchise and after marriage, legally lost control of property and children, unable to sign contracts or bring suit in court without a husband’s permission. Her legal status was that of a minor, a slave, or a free black. Black women suffered discrimination both of race and gender. An organized movement for women’s rights had its beginnings when the antislavery movement split over the question of women’s right to participate in the proceedings. Silenced and relegated to the balcony women determined they needed to organize and foster their own emancipation as well as that of their black sisters and brothers. In 1848 The Seneca Falls Convention convened to discuss “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.”  The convention’s Declaration of Sentiments declared the self-evident truth that “all men and women are created equal.” An important first step had been taken in the campaign for women’s rights. Feminism and women’s liberation of the nineteen sixties was in a real sense just the latest chapter in American history of the ongoing struggle for sexual equality and a closer coherence in reality of the American ideal of justice, freedom, and equality.


Developing and adding new courses to the American history curriculum was a direct result of the upheavals and ferment of rebellion in the Sixties experienced on college and university campuses. Perceived absence of individual freedom and domination of organizational structure in modern American life , it was observed, individuals were oppressed and alienated. Students and faculty allies worked to restore democracy to American life and educational process. The voices of those disfranchised or overlooked in the educational process were to be heard in curricular course offerings. Soon Black Study and Women Study departments, among others, appeared on campus. Adding various courses to Concordia’s history curriculum in the late Sixties and Seventies reflected the impact of campus ferment upon my own curricular course offerings. Having developed and taught African-American History and Women In American History other courses were developed including Race As The History of An Idea, Vietnam And The American Experience, and an upper-level team-taught Women’s Issues course.


In the Fall of 1992  I prepared and updated A Review of Professional Service to Concordia College. I retired in May 1993. The following paragraph of the Review was a retrospective summary outlining the main historical themes I had taught. Clearly indicated was the impact The Civil Rights Revolution and my experiences in the South followed by the tumultuous Sixties had upon my teaching. I wrote:  “My teaching reflects a synthesis of educational and professional experience in American History, particularly American Intellectual History and the History of the South. Stressed is the concept of the “American Dream” and the repeated frustration but ongoing quest for perfect moral order and freedom. American commitment to individualism and the aversion to institutions is traced through shifting thought patterns relating to concepts of simplicity and progress when confronting growing cultural and institutional complexity.  Rhetoric and symbolism of democracy in the American past is emphasized.  These themes, coupled with prior training in theology, the classics, and the history of philosophy, are reflected in an attempt to convey a humanistic understanding of the past.  In recent years, new courses in Women in American History, a Seminar in Nineteenth Century American History, African-American History, and Pressing Social Issues of the Women’s Movement, have emphasized the history of American attitudes toward race and sex These courses analyze the processes of social change often inimical to the interests of  “inarticulate” minorities and women while attempting  to strike a balance with the positive effects of the libertarian tradition upon the American experience.”


Forty-Seven years ago the Freedom Riders put their lives on the line to fight legal segregation in the South in a struggle for racial justice. The morning after the January 6, 2008 Democratic presidential caucus in Iowa the Minneapolis StarTribune featured a political cartoon. Pictured is Martin Luther King, Jr. reading the paper headline Obama wins  with a background sign I HAVE A DREAM.  King is musing Somebody Pinch Me!  What a remarkable path America has journeyed since the Freedom Ride Movement when the front running Democratic Party presidential candidates are an African-American male, Barack Obama, and a female, Hillary Clinton!  Questions of race or gender no longer disqualify anyone from consideration for presidential candidacy.  Without question the American ideal of freedom, justice, and equality is closer to reality today than it was forty-seven years ago.. The Minnesota Historical lecture series: America’s Struggle With Ongoing Freedom suggests that struggle itself is a key to achieving the “American Dream”. Having lived through the Civil Rights Revolution and the struggle for political, economic, and social equality during the Sixties I am confident regarding the ultimate closer achievement of that struggle. Study of American history has shown the redemptive nature of the American reform tradition urging American reality to reflect more clearly American idealism.

January 25, 2008

Fred A. Bartling

2 thoughts on “Prof. Bartling’s Story

  1. Thanks, Fred, for your fine writing on this subject. You’re still a great teacher! You inspired in me a deep appreciation and enjoyment of history.

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