Vernon Baker Honored: Only Living African-American Awarded WWII Medal of Honor

Vernon Baker Honored: Only Living Black Awarded WWII Medal of Honor

Wofford College Presents Vernon Baker with The Sandor Teszler Award

Wofford College, in Spartanburg (SC), will honor Joseph Vernon Baker, the only living African-American recipient of the Medal of Honor for valor during World War II. Wofford will present The Sandor Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service to Humankind to Baker and confer an honorary degree during the college’s opening convocation ceremonies on September 11, 2008. The Sandor Teszler Award represents the highest ideals that the Wofford community embraces, and it carries with it a $10,000 award as well as a citation and the honorary degree.

Sandor Teszler was born in the old Austro-Hungarian empire, and during World War II Teszler, his wife and two sons were taken to a death camp on the Danube River, where the Nazi victims were systematically beaten to death. They were prepared for imminent death, but then they unexpectedly were rescued by an official from the Swiss Embassy. Immigrating to America and coming to the Carolinas, Sandor Teszler became a leader in the textile industry, soon becoming one of the very first to desegregate the textile mills. During the last decade of his life, Teszler graced the Wofford campus, “attending so many classes that the faculty, acknowledging a wisdom and experience greater than their own, honored themselves by making him a professor.”

Wofford College and the Tribute to Joseph Vernon Baker

Wofford College is one of only a handful of colleges and universities in the United States that were founded prior to the Civil War, which still operates and remains on its original campus. The Wofford campus has been designated a National Historic District, and five of its six original college buildings are still in use today. Wofford has become known in the wider academic world as a true “Phoenix rising from the ashes.” The college was devastated by the loss of almost its entire endowment as a result of the Civil War. However, despite its meager financial resources, Wofford proudly struggled through the next twelve decades to provide an academically challenging education to its small student body. One illustration of the sterling academic quality maintained by the college is the fact that forty-two Wofford alumni have gone on to serve as college and university presidents.

The commemoration of Joseph Vernon Baker and the courage exemplified in his life carries a special confluence with a certain aspect of Wofford’s own history. Founded in 1854, for over a century Wofford was a small private liberal arts college that was segregated, attracting almost all of its students from the Old South. In 1962 and 1963, public colleges and universities throughout the region had begun to desegregate, almost always forced to do so at the direction of federal court orders and accompanied by significant resistance and often violence. In the face of strong and heated public sentiments against desegregation, as well as by anticipated bitterness concerning and rejection of the college on the part of some of its alumni, supporters and friends, Wofford’s officers were undaunted and forged ahead, quietly beginning to make plans for desegregation. In the fall semester of 1964, the college opened its doors with an admissions policy that was equally applicable and nondiscriminatory to all students who might wish to apply, regardless of their race or creed. Steadfastly committed to its decision to make a stand for human equality, Wofford thus became one of the very first private colleges in the Old South to peacefully integrate.

Vernon Baker is now 89 years-old and lives in St. Maries, Idaho. Mr. Baker had earned the Medal of Honor 52 years before he and six of his military comrades actually received the award in 1997 from then-President Bill Clinton at a special White House ceremony. Mr. Baker was the only one who was still living to accept the Medal of Honor in person, the military’s highest award for bravery in battle. “They helped America to become more worthy of them and more true to its ideals,” Clinton said at the White House observance.

Vernon Baker, who had served as a lieutenant with the 370th Infantry Regiment, was cited for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life” for his actions on April 5 and 6th, 1945, when he destroyed four German machine gun nests near Viareggio, Italy, at Castle Aghinolfi, a critical German high-ground mountain defense post. He killed nine enemy soldiers with a gun and hand grenades. Mr. Baker also was awarded the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic actions in Italy.

Lt. Joseph Vernon Baker: An Honor Long Deferred

In the January 14th, 1997 edition of The New York Times, James Bennett wrote a moving article about the White House ceremony, which came a half-century after most of them had died in combat. On January 13th, 1997, seven soldiers finally were awarded the Medals of Honor that they deserved, but which had been denied after World War II because they were African-Americans. Of the seven men, Joseph Vernon Baker was the only one of the decorated soldiers who was still alive.

Their abilities and courageous actions in combat had been routinely derided by white officers. The very soldiers who were finally honored on that day had been forced to fight in segregated units, protecting the very freedoms that they did not fully share.

History has been made whole today,” Mr. Clinton declared, while standing in the East Room of the White House in front of Gilbert Stuart’s full-length portrait of George Washington, ”and our nation is bestowing honor on those who have long deserved it.”

Lt. Vernon Baker: An Honor Long Overdue

Wofford College Honors Vernon Baker:  WWII Medal of Honor Winner

Interview with Vernon Baker: WWII Medal of Honor Winner

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Texas Students Forced to March Seven Miles to Vote for Obama

This is a political story that touches the heart. Founded in 1876, Prairie View A&M is a historically Black university in Prairie View, Texas. The school is home to about eight thousand students studying in a range of fields, most notably engineering, nursing and agriculture. They have a famous marching band called The Marching Storm, which, as you’ll see in the video below, is pretty appropriate.

The student body represents a large constituency of Democratic voters, and, that being the case, they don’t have it so easy. Texas Republicans, who run the electoral show, have historically gone out of their way to hinder Democratic voters, and the whole state was gerrymandered back in 2003. For the students of Prairie View, the Republicans in the state located their early-polling place more than seven miles from the school. As it turned out, this was just a minor inconvenience to the student body well-taught by their own Marching Storm.

Texas College Students March Seven Miles to Vote

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America’s Top 25 “Brainy” Cities

America’s Brainiest Cities

American cities have been ranked by Forbes Magazine to come up with a list of the “smartest” cities in the country, the “best-educated” metropolitan areas. The list, which includes the top 25 “brainy” locations, was determined on the basis of the percentages of people with a high school diploma, percentages of people ages 25 and up with at least a bachelor’s degree, and percentages with a doctoral or professional degree.

The cities on the list have populations that range anywhere from 4 million people down to just 80,000. The common denominator among almost all of them, likely the key to rank placement, is that they’re college or university towns. The presence of post-secondary institutions is the main factor contributing to a number of the smaller locales appearing on the list, such as Ames (IA) or Corvallis (OR), boasting, respectively, 7.23% and 5.62% of their residents with Ph.D.’s. Boulder (CO), Ithaca (NY), Washington, D.C., Cambridge (MA) and Anne Arbor (MI) each claimed top spots in the rankings, in large part because substantial portions of their populations are made up of collegiate residents.

Metropolitan areas on the list that are not necessarily college towns are usually associated with some of country’s biggest high-tech centers, which include cities like San Francisco (CA) and Seattle (WA). There are also locations that tend to attract well-educated people who have the money to pay for high-end real estate.

America’s Top 25 “Smart” Cities

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Sandor Teszler: The Story of a Passionate Life

Wofford College: Old Main Building

The Sandor Teszler Library

Sandor Teszler: Biographic Notes

Sandor Teszler had been born in the old Austro-Hungarian empire, ostracized from childhood not so much because he was a Jew as because he was afflicted with club feet, requiring many painful operations. From an early age he loved music, especially opera, and later in life he would befriend his fellow exile, the composer Bela Bartok.

Extremely successful in the textile business, Teszler thought that his contributions to society would protect him from the Nazis. He was wrong, almost fatally so, for he and his wife and two sons were taken to a death house on the Danube, where victims were systematically beaten to death. Midway through their beatings, one of his sons pointed to the poison capsule each of them bore in a locket about his neck. “Is it time to take the pill now, Papa?” he asked. Inexplicably, one of their tormentors leaned down to whisper in Teszler’s ear, “Don’t take the capsule. Help is on the way.” Shortly afterwards, the family was rescued by an official from the Swiss embassy and taken to safety.

After coming to this country and making another fortune, he set about improving the lives of everyone he met. In the aftermath of the Brown versus Board of Education desegregation ruling, Teszler noted the escalating rhetoric around him. “I have heard this talk before,” he said. And with a combination of shrewdness and saintliness worthy of Gandhi, he decided be the first in the Southern textile region to integrate the work force in his mills.

Setting up heavy equipment in an unused high school gym, he took a group of workers for a prospective mill in King’s Mountain, N.C., to live there on the premises while learning the new operation. Half of the workers were white and half were black. After an initial tour of this temporary facility, he asked if there were any questions. Following an uneasy silence, one of the white workers raised his hand and said he was puzzled to find there was only one dormitory and one shower room. “That is correct,” Mr. Teszler answered. “You are being paid considerably more than other textile workers in this region, and this is how we do things. Are there any other questions?” “I guess not,” the worker said.

Some weeks later, when the new mill opened, workers of both races were greeted by a group of black and white foremen standing shoulder to shoulder. “Are there any questions?” a black foreman asked. After some shuffling about, one of the white workers raised his hand. “Let me get this straight,” he queried. “Is this plant integrated?” One of the white foremen stepped forward, the same man who’d asked a similar question some weeks earlier. “That is correct,” he said. “You’re being paid a lot more than other textile workers in this region and this is how we do things. Any other questions?” There were none.

Sandor Teszler at Wofford College

For Teszler, such episodes served to confirm his faith that people are fundamentally good. And, in the company of this man with such persuasive cause for thinking otherwise, people did tend to discover their better selves. Through the last decade of his life, well into his 90s, Sandor Teszler graced the campus of Wofford College in South Carolina, attending so many classes that the faculty, acknowledging a wisdom and experience far greater than their own, honored themselves by making him an honorary professor.

To hundreds of Wofford students he was simply “Opi,” Hungarian for grandfather. Today, the Wofford College library bears his name. In addition, Wofford has established the Sandor Teszler Award, which is given annually to a person who has made outstanding humanitarian contributions. Benjamin B. Dunlap, President of Wofford College, told the dramatic life story of Sandor Teszler at the prestigious TED conference last year in Monterey, California. The video of Dr. Dunlap’s talk is presented for you below.

Sandor Teszler at Wofford

Sandor Teszler: The Story of a Passionate Life

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Historic Antioch College to Stay Open: Saved by Amazing Alumni Efforts

Antioch Hall: Antioch College, Yellows Springs (OH)

Earliest Known Photograph of Antioch Hall (1852)

Coretta Scott King (’51) Accepts The Horace Mann Award, Antioch (2004)

Glen Helen: The Antioch College Forest Preserve

Historic Antioch College Saved by Amazing Alumni Efforts

Antioch College won’t be shut down next summer after all. Antioch’s Alumni Board is confident that it can raise the tens of millions of dollars needed to halt the suspension of operations that the trustees had regarded as unavoidable only five months ago. Arthur Zucker, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Antioch University, which oversees the college, announced at a joint news conference with leaders of the alumni group on Saturday that the beleaguered institution would remain open for business beyond June 30, 2008, thanks to a “fantastic and unprecedented” fund-raising effort by Antioch’s alumni.

The 155-year old college, which is located in Yellow Springs, Ohio, is the residential undergraduate division of Antioch University. The agreement is subject to meeting a series of financial benchmarks. The alumni group needs to raise and transfer to the college at least $2-million by next Monday, and an additional $4.6-million in a period of weeks after that, for a total of $6.6-million by December 15. Further, jointly the institution and alumni group must collect additional amounts, $12-million by the end of next May, $26-million by June 30, 2009, and $19-million by June 30, 2010, for the college to remain open.

I think everyone finally agreed that this college is just too important in terms of its place in American higher education, its place in history and its place in our social structure to let it die,” said Steve Schwerner, an Antioch graduate, former professor and former longtime dean of students. He is also a member of the Alumni Board and a parent of a graduate.

The alumni group has already secured $18-million in pledges from its members. “An enormous amount of work remains to be done, but we are energized and ready to rise to this challenge,” said Nancy Crow, President of the Antioch College Alumni Association. “Our goal is nothing less than the regeneration of Antioch College as a leader and innovator in liberal-arts education.”

Holly Zachariah has written a detailed article in The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) about the new agreement for Antioch to remain open, which interested readers can access here.

Voices of Recent Antioch Graduates

The Previous Announcement of Antioch College’s Imminent Closing

In an earlier article published in June, I wrote:

Antioch College, a 154-year-old liberal-arts institution in Yellow Springs, Ohio, widely known for for its socially activist tradition, will close next year because of mounting budget deficits and dwindling enrollment, college officials announced on Tuesday.

The college in Yellow Springs (OH) is the undergraduate residential component of Antioch University, whose Board of Trustees voted over the weekend to shut the campus down. The Antioch Board members said that it was their hope that by closing the college now, a sound financial state might be restored that would enable them to reopen in 2012. Antioch University also has five nonresidential campuses around the country, all of which will remain open.

Paul Fain wrote in the Chronical of Higher Education:

The decision was agonizing,” said one trustee, Barbara Slaner Winslow. “For many of us, the meeting was like a funeral,” said Ms. Winslow, an Antioch alumna who is an associate professor of women’s and social studies at the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College.

Antioch officials said revenue from the college’s small endowment of $36.2-million and tuition from a projected fall enrollment of 309 students would not be enough to cover budget shortfalls, which have been exacerbated by the cost of maintaining Antioch’s historic campus, in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

We really need a much larger critical mass of students,” said Tullisse A. Murdock, chancellor of Antioch University, noting that only 125 new freshmen were scheduled to arrive next fall. Of the decision to close the college, she said: “Certainly it’s going to be a huge disappointment to our college alumni.”

The trustees also declared a state of financial exigency, which means most of Antioch College’s 160 full-time faculty and staff members will be laid off by July 2008. College operations will be suspended at that point, but a university spokeswoman said an undetermined number of staff members would stay on to maintain facilities. The university will also establish a commission to determine the college’s long-term future, and some staff members might be included on that commission….

Antioch is perhaps best known for its liberal initiatives, such as eliminating grades and a sexual-offense-prevention policy from the mid-1990s that required specific “verbal consent” for every step of intimacy. But the college also has a long list of famous alumni, including Coretta Scott King, Rod Serling and Stephen Jay Gould. Its first president was the education reformer Horace Mann.”

Interested readers can read a detailed account of the earlier planned closing of Antioch in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Subscription).

Cary Nelson, Ph.D., Professor of English at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wrote nostalgically about his experiences as an undergraduate student at Antioch College during the mid-1960s, which you can read here.

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Tiny Wofford College Trounces Top-Ranked Appalachian State University

Wofford Celebrates Win Over Top-Ranked Appalachian State

Wofford College Upsets FCS Top-Ranked Appalachian State University

Wofford College, the smallest school in Division I football, entered its showdown with Division I-AA’s (FCS) top-ranked Appalachian State searching for an identity and left with a victory that could open the way to a landmark season.

The Terriers ran for 316 yards and had four touchdowns in the second half to beat the two-time defending I-AA champion Mountaineers 42-31. The loss ended ASU’s 17-game winning streak and was its first Southern Conference defeat since 2003.

We did not play well the week before (in a loss at I-A North Carolina State), and not many people gave us a chance Saturday,” Wofford coach Mike Ayers said Sunday. “I think that created a bunch of players with a chip on the shoulder who wanted to prove they could play with the team that beat Michigan this season.”

Kevious Johnson ran for 98 yards for the Terriers (3-1), who had not beaten ASU (3-1) since 2003. “They come at you like a hurricane, and the next thing you know you’re behind by three or four scores,” Ayers said. “We had to weather those storms. We had to make it a four-quarter fight, not a one-round knockout, and we did.”

Note: On September 1st, Appalachian State defeated The University of Michigan, which at that time was ranked No. 5 among Division I schools. The score of that upset win was: Appalachian State 34, The University of Michigan 32.

Wofford College vs. The University of South Carolina (2006)

Now here’s an inspirational sporting event: It was just about a year ago that Wofford College, smallest Division I school in the nation) played against The University of South Carolina and almost upset the Carolina Gamecocks. Wofford’s final drive in the game took the Terriers down to the South Carolina 10-yard line, but a fumble on the fourth down ended any hopes of an upset as the Gamecocks managed to hold on for a 27-20 victory at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC. The Terriers brought the score within one touchdown with 4:43 on the clock as Josh Collier hit Andy Strickland for a 25-yard touchdown pass. Wofford then stopped USC on its next possession before mounting its final drive covering 51 yards with just one timeout remaining. “I can’t describe how proud I am of the guys,” said head coach Mike Ayers. “Our coaching staff worked their tails off. We came down here with the mindset that we could win.”

Wofford College vs. The University of South Carolina (1:38 into the video)

Final Score: The University of South Carolina 27, Wofford 20 (USC wins with 5 sec. remaining in the game)

Wofford College Through the Years

Wofford College is one of only a handful of colleges and universities in the United States that were founded prior to the Civil War, which still operates and remains on its original campus. The Wofford College campus has been named a National Historic District. It has five of the six original college buildings, all of which are in use today for various purposes. The beauty of its campus has resulted in its designation as an officially registered South Carolina arboretum.

Wofford is presently becoming known in the wider academic world as a true “Phoenix rising from the ashes.” It was devastated by the loss of almost its entire endowment as a result of the Civil War. However, despite its meager financial resources, Wofford proudly struggled through the next twelve decades to provide an academically challenging education to its small student body. One illustration of the sterling academic quality maintained by the college is the fact that forty-two Wofford alumni have gone on to serve as college and university presidents.

For example, through the years Wofford graduates and faculty have included the Founders or Presidents/Chancellors of Duke University, Vanderbilt University, The Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Southern Methodist University, Hendrix College, Randolph-Macon College and Mary Washington College. A former President of the college went on to become the President of Southern Methodist University, Drew University and, finally, Chancellor of The University of North Carolina (as well as head of the entire University of North Carolina educational system).

Today, gaining increasing national recognition as an academic “jewel” in the South, its endowment has been increasing rapidly and a significant new endowment drive has recently been inaugurated. There has been an unprecedented acceleration of the restoration and construction of student residences, academic, recreation and sports facilities. It is also presently distinguished by being the smallest college in the nation (1,500 students) with sports teams competing (quite successfully) in both men’s and women’s NCAA Division I athletics.

Academically, Wofford has been focusing upon a significant expansion of its faculty, with new faculty members currently being drawn to teach at the college from some of the most prestigious universities in the country. For many years, Wofford served students who came, for the most part, from South Carolina and its immediate surrounding areas. Presently, it’s become quite competitive in attracting exceptionally talented students from across the nation, as well as from abroad. In the 2007 U. S. News & World Report rankings of National Liberal Arts Colleges, Wofford’s national ranking is now in the company of such selective, prestigious colleges as: Pitzer College (CA), Lawrence University (WI), Reed College (OR), Wheaton College (MA), Agnes Scott College (GA) and Earlham College (IN). In the more recently released college rankings by The Washington Monthly, Wofford is ranked 29th out of 202 National Liberal Arts Colleges.

Wofford College: Old Main

Wofford Through the Years

Wofford College: Making the Connections

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