Kentucky $3.00 October 2007 - Kentucky Humanities Council 07 Kentucky... · Kentucky October 2007...

Kentucky humanities October 2007 Kentucky Humanities Council Inc. $3.00 Cutting a Swath page 8 The amazing career of William Sheppard, human rights advocate and Louisville pastor. A Kentuckian on Bataan page 20 William Gentry fought heroically and survived the biggest American defeat of World War II, but many of his comrades from Harrodsburg weren’t so lucky. Channeling Socrates in the Bluegrass page 29 Why the liberal arts are endangered and why liberal education is worth saving. Plus: Kentucky History and Travel Notes Photography by Keith Auerbach

Transcript of Kentucky $3.00 October 2007 - Kentucky Humanities Council 07 Kentucky... · Kentucky October 2007...

KentuckyhumanitiesOctober 2007

Kentucky Humanities Council Inc.


Cutting a Swath page 8The amazing career of William Sheppard, human rightsadvocate and Louisville pastor.

A Kentuckian on Bataan page 20

William Gentry fought heroically andsurvived the biggest American defeat ofWorld War II, but many of his comrades from Harrodsburg weren’t so lucky.

Channeling Socrates in the Bluegrass page 29

Why the liberal arts are endangered and why liberal education is worth saving.

Plus:Kentucky History and Travel Notes

Photography by Keith

Celebrating the Lincoln Bicentennial—the Council Takes the Lead

Dear Friends,

Kentuckians are justly proud of their native son, Abraham Lincoln.Yes, it’s true that during the Civil War he was,to put it mildly, unpopular in the Commonwealth. But our attitude toward the sixteenth president of the UnitedStates shifted radically following his assassination, and recognition of his greatness and pride in his humble ori-gins in Larue County have long since replaced the bitterness of the war.

The Kentucky Humanities Council is proudly and enthusiastically taking the lead in the celebration of AbrahamLincoln’s 200th birthday on February 12, 2009. Observance of the Lincoln Bicentennial will actually last twoyears. It begins in 2008, and the Council is presenting the first kickoff event on Sunday, February 10, 2008—OurLincoln, a gala to be held at the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts in Lexington.

Some of Kentucky’s finest talents—UK Opera director Everett McCorvey, the Lexington Philharmonic Orches-tra, violinist Nathan Cole, Poet Laureate Jane Gentry Vance, and many others—are working together to make thiscelebration truly memorable.You will thrill to their performances, and come away with a renewed appreciationfor the great leader who inspired them. Please plan to be there!

You’ll find all the details about Our Lincoln and the council’s other Lincoln Bicentennial activities on page 35.Between this page and that one, you’ll also find some of the great reading you expect from Kentucky Humanities.Kentucky History and Travel Notes makes its debut in this issue.This is a section you asked for in last fall’s sur-vey. Let us know what you think.

The remarkable Reverend William Henry Sheppard spent nearly a quarter of his life in Kentucky, but few knowof his career as an internationally renowned missionary, anthropologist, and defender of human rights. Peter Mor-rin tells Sheppard’s amazing story. And Chris Kolakowski and Berry Craig have amazing stories to tell of Ken-tuckians whose work abroad did not win fame—just World War II.

Do the liberal arts have a future in the 21st century? In a provocative essay, Jeffrey Freyman argues that they doas he tells us why liberal education is endangered and why it is worth saving. In our photo essay, you’ll discoverthe amusing work of Louisville photographer Keith Auerbach, a patient man who doesn’t harvest the picture untilit is “perfectly ripe.”

As always, thank you for your faithful support of our efforts to bring the humanities to all Kentuckians, and markyour calendars for Our Lincoln on February 10—we’ll be sending reminders closer to the date.

Virginia G. Smith, Publisher

KHCBoard of Directors Chair:William L. Ellison Jr.Louisville

Vice Chair:Edward de RossetBarbourville

Secretary:William G. Kimbrell Jr.Lexington

Treasurer:Stephen M. RuschellLexington

Executive Committee:Ernestine M. HallLouisville

Kristen BaleGlasgow

Carole BeereHighland Heights

Pat BradleyBronston

Aristofanes CedenoLouisville

Rebecca EggersOwensboro

Mary C. FarrellEdgewood

Kenneth R. HixsonLexington

Brigitte LaPrestoPikeville

William C. ParkerLexington

John Michael PhilippsCincinnati

Bruce B. PopePaducah

William G. ScottFrankfort

Harold ShoafLouisville

Michelle TooleyBerea

Bob WillenbrinkMorehead

Margie WilsonLexington

StaffExecutive Director:Virginia G. Smith

Associate Director:Kathleen Pool

Assistant Director:Charles Thompson

Fiscal Officer:Steven Price

Chautauqua Coordinator:Catherine Ferguson

EditorCharles Thompson


October 2007

© 2007 Kentucky Humanities Council ISSN 1554-6284Kentucky Humanities is published in April & October by the Kentucky Humanities Council, Inc., 206 East Maxwell St., Lexington, KY 40508-2613(859/257-5932). KHC is an independent, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D.C., and providesmore than 400 public humanities programs for Kentuckians every year. Supporters of the Council’s programs receive Kentucky Humanities bymail. Views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the KHC Board and staff. For information on ourvery favorable advertising rates, please call Charles Thompson at 859/257-5932.

On the cover: Glancing Naive Swooper by Stephen Rolfe Powell. Photograph by David Harpe. For more, see page 4.


8 Cutting a SwathWilliam Sheppard spent the last 15 yearsof his life as a Presbyterian pastor inLouisville, and the previous 20 fighting forhuman rights in the Congo. Peter Morrintells his amazing story.

15 Keith AuerbachLouisvillian Keith Auerbach has beenhooked on photography for 40 years.He looks for humorous pictures, and we offer a sample of what he’s found.

20 A Kentuckian on BataanA National Guard unit from Harrodsburgended up right in the middle of the biggest American defeat of World War II.William Gentry fought heroically and survived the ordeal. Chris Kolakowski tells his story.

27 First Men InFrank Kolb of Paducah led the first American soldiers “to set foot on Germanground” in World War II. Berry Craigreports on Kolb’s historic steps.

29 Channeling Socratesin the BluegrassJeffrey Freyman says the liberal arts areendangered in the 21st century, but heargues in this pointed essay that liberaleducation is very much worth saving.


2 Kentucky Historyand Travel NotesA new department: Looking at the peopleand places of the Commonwealth

35 The Council PagesThe latest on our programs and plans.

Page 8 Page 15 Page 27

2 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

FRED M. Vinson, born in jail inLouisa, Kentucky, rose to theheights of American government.

His political career, one of the most sig-nificant in the history of the Common-wealth, was honored September 7, 2007at the dedication of the renovated Vinson

birthplace in downtown Louisa. It isnow officially the Louisa Welcome Cen-ter and Museum, and is already stockedwith some of the artifacts of Vinson’scareer. The dedication was the culmina-tion of years of work by the Fred M.Vin-son Foundation.

James Vinson was the LawrenceCounty jailer when his son FrederickMoore Vinson, who always preferred to beknown as Fred M.Vinson, was born in thefront of the jail on January 22, 1890. Theyoung Vinson studied law at Centre Col-lege, and at the age of 21 hung out his shin-gle in Louisa and began a career in law andpolitics. In 1924 he won a seat in Congress,launching a Washington career that includ-ed distinguished service in all three branch-es of government.

In Congress in the 1930s, Vinsonemerged as an influential expert on tax pol-icy and as a staunch supporter of PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Hedescribed himself as “a little left of center” inpolitics. In 1938, Roosevelt appointed Vin-son to the Court of Appeals of the Districtof Columbia. During World War II, Roo-sevelt recalled Vinson to the executivebranch, where he ably handled several diffi-cult and important jobs, including directorof economic stabilization.

The New York Times described Vinsonas “genial, affable and kindly, hearty and sin-cere, amiable and unaffected . . . a dignifiedman of grave demeanor, calm judgment, agreat amount of patience, and an easy man-ner.” His winning personality, political acu-men, and hardworking nature were a potentcombination, leading to close relationships

Louisa Honors Native SonFred M. Vinson was one of Kentucky’s greatest statesmen

Vinson’s renovated birthplace, the former Lawrence County jail, was dedicated asthe Louisa Welcome Center and Museum on September 7, 2007.


Kentucky History and Travel Notes:Destinations


CountylLouisville l


lOhio County

lBell County

Raymond F. Betts, teacher and humanist par excellence, died in Feb-ruary 2007. A retired professor of history at the University of Ken-tucky and founding director of the Gaines Humanities Center, Bettswas also a longtime friend and supporter of the Kentucky Humani-ties Council. He sent us this little essay a while back, and we arehappy to publish it in his memory.

ALONG with falling leaves, early October in Kentuckybrings rising morning mist.The sight is appealing—if theviewer is not behind the steering wheel of a car heading in

the direction of this atmospheric condition.Mist, unlike fog, its opaque cousin, causes graceful and

appealing metaphors to rise. The mist of time, misty eyes, themist of perfume—or W. H. Auden’s sad world “mantled in mist.”Fog befuddles and disorients; it disturbs and disrupts. Fog is thevaporous setting of crime and mystery. Fog may be dense orthick, heavy or impenetrable, widespread and rather enduring.

Mist is none of these. It is the translucent stuff of memoryand reflection. It is so because it is light and low, quickly evapo-rated or dissipated as the day gathers itself together and casts offthe deep cold of early morning.

The brevity of mist accounts for much of its appeal; the restcomes from its location.There, in hollow and bottomland, alongriver edge or around forest cover, mist, like the halo of the saint,defines the unspoiled, and briefly separates the natural from thecontrived and manufactured.

The morning mist reminds us that there is more to life andthought than the clarity of reason. Mist suggests ambiguity, theill-defined, therefore rather shapeless, space that separates darkand light, the depth of night from the brightness of day.

I can think of no better place to enjoy an early morning Ken-tucky mist than along Route 68 as the road twists downward tothe Kentucky River and then pauses before it rises toward Shak-ertown. The sight is one that allows the viewer to grasp, inappealing and proper proportions, the artistic notion of “TheSublime,” the awe-inspiring presence of nature before the intro-spective individual.

Mist disappears quickly. Its momentary hold on our sight, ourimagination, our spirit is as it should be. The appeal is in the longreflection inspired by the short phenomenon.

Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 3

with presidents Roosevelt and Harry Tru-man, especially the latter.

After Roosevelt’s death in 1945,Tru-man appointed Vinson Secretary of theTreasury. The next year, banking on Vin-son’s skill at bringing warring partiestogether, Truman sent him to presideover a floundering U. S. Supreme Court,which was riven by bitter squabblingamong the justices. One of only seventeenmen to hold the position of Chief Justiceof the United States, Vinson brought a

measure of harmo-ny to the court dur-ing his seven yearsat its head. He diedsuddenly on Sep-tember 8, 1953. Inopinions he hadwritten in civilrights cases, Vinsonsaid racial segrega-tion had no place inAmerican educa-tion, but he did notlive to participate inBrown v. Board ofEducation, the 1954Supreme Courtdecision outlawingsegregation in theschools.

Fred M.Vinsonis buried in thePinehill Cemeteryin Louisa. Hisbirthplace is on Madison Street, on theleft just before you cross the bridge toWest Virginia. Be sure to try the onionrings at Dee’s.

As shown in this Washington Postcartoon, President Truman appointedFred M.Vinson Chief Justice in hopes hecould heal a fractured Supreme Court.

Viewing mementoes of Vinson’s careerat the highest levels of government.

Autumn MistMist is the translucent stuff of memory and reflection


4 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

FOR Stephen Powell, the urge to makeglass art is consuming—“what a drugis to an addict” is how he describes it.

The cost, for Powell, is the difficulty ofcoming down from the high, of subsidinginto normal life. The benefit, for everyone,is glass art of great beauty, an evolving bodyof work that celebrates the ways in whichcolor and form combine to stunning effect.

A native of Birmingham, Alabama,Powell graduated from Centre College witha degree in art in 1974. At the time, he wasa painter. He taught art—in a prison and ata private school in Alabama—while turninghis personal focus to ceramics.At age 28, heentered the Master of Fine Arts Program atLouisiana State University. By the time hefinished, he had thrown over ceramics andtaken up with glass. In 1983, he returned toCentre to teach art and is still there, winningawards for his teaching and internationalrenown for his glassmaking.

Master Makers: Stephen Rolfe Powell,A Retrospective Exhibition at the KentuckyMuseum of Art and Craft in Louisville(see box for details) chronicles Powell’sglassmaking career. So does the bookStephen Rolfe Powell: Glassmaker, pub-lished by the University Press of Ken-tucky to coincide with the opening of theretrospective exhibition, which runsthrough February 2, 2008.

Photographs by David HarpeStephen Rolfe Powell: Glassmaker© University Press of Kentucky 2007 Used by permission

Glass MasterA Louisville exhibit looks back at a quarter-century of glass artby Stephen Rolfe Powell of Centre College

Playing with fire: One reason StephenPowell likes glassblowing is simpleenough—“I’m a pyromaniac.”


Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 5

Master Makers:Stephen Rolfe Powell,A Retrospective Exhibition

October 20, 2007-February 2, 2008Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft715 West Main StreetLouisville, KY

Hours:Monday-Friday 10-5; Saturday 11-5Admission: FREE502/

Right: Pushy Violet Throb, 2005.This recent work is what Powell calls a Whacko, an asymmetrical shape that allows him to “explore more challenging sculptural concerns.”

Bottom left: Published to coincide withthe Louisville exhibit, this UniversityPress of Kentucky book chroniclesPowell’s career in brilliant color.

Bottom right: Peacock Cheeks Johnson,1988.This is the vessel shape Powellfavored early in his career.

6 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

TELLING riddles is both an intellec-tual exercise and form of entertain-ment that goes back as far in history

as we have any knowledge of man’s intel-lectual doings. Even the Bible containsriddles. The Anglo-Saxons evidentlyloved riddles because they preservedmany elaborate ones. Down through theyears, poets have written riddles in verse.Riddles have been used for various kindsof tests. But the fun of riddles comes

from the riddles them-selves, not from the dis-courses about them.

“Riddling” hasbeen a traditional formof social activity inAppalachia; sad to say,though, young peoplethese days know fewerand fewer of the oldriddles.

Perhaps the mostfamous riddle still to befound in Appalachia isthe Riddle of theSphinx, which Oedipusanswered in order tobecome King ofThebes. What goes onfour legs in the morning,two at noon, and three inthe afternoon? Answer:A human being.

In the mountains themost suggestive riddles—“bad” riddles with inno-cent answers—alwaysseemed to be the mostpopular.The shock of theinnocent answer added tothe overall impact.

A number of yearsago, riddles were gath-ered from schoolchild-

ren in southeastern Kentucky. One col-lector suggested that the children asktheir parents and grandparents for riddlesthey might remember. One child cameback saying, “My mommy said she knowsother old riddles that are kinda bad. Shesaid she would tell them to you if youcome and see her.”

Here are some of my favorite“good” and “bad” riddles, heard in mychildhood.

Crooked as a rainbow,Teeth like a cat,Guess all night andYou can’t guess that.(Answer: a briar)

Back to the ground,Belly to the sun,Tails begin to wiggle,And the good begins to come!(Answer: sow and pigs)

Up she jumped and out she run,Down she squatted,And the good began to come.(Answer: milking a cow)

Green as grass but grass it ain’t.Black as ink but ink it ain’t.What is it?(Answer: a blackberry)

As I went across London BridgeI met a London scholar.He tipped his hat and drew his cane,And in this riddle I told his name.(Answer: Andrew)

In yonders lot there is a cup,And in that cup there is a drop,And of that drop we all must taste.(Answer: death)

Round as a biscuit, busy as a bee,Prettiest little thing you ever did see.(Answer: a pocket watch)

A hill full, a hole full,But you can’t get a bowlful.(Answer: fog or mist)

Four stiff standers,Two lookers, two hookers,One dirty switch-aboutLags along behind.(Answer: a cow)

Belly to belly,Hand on the back.A little piece of fleshTo stop up the crack.(Answer: a baby nursing)

Excerpted from My Appalachia by Sidney SaylorFarr © University Press of Kentucky Used by permission.

The Power of RiddlesIn her new memoir, Appalachian writer Sidney Salyor Farr recalls her childhood in remote Bell County, Kentucky. Riddles,she writes, were a favorite form of entertainment.


Sidney Saylor Farr is the former editor of Appalachian Heritage and a former staff member at Berea College.She has written numerous articles and books aboutAppalachian life and culture.


Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 7

On August 1, 1830, Rebecca Condict of War-rick County, Indiana, wrote to her sister, MaryCondict of Ohio County, Kentucky. RebeccaCondict devoted a large part of the letter to thebenefits of frequent bathing. The spelling andpunctuation (or lack thereof) are her own.

Ihave nothing particular to write that Iknow of. only I want to reccommendsomething to you if you will do it I

think it will help you or cure you of yoursick spells that you are subject to, that isbathing or washing. you may think youhave not time to attend to it, but I can tellyou it will not take you more than five orten minutes, I know you have plenty ofwatter and boys to pack it. you can haveit in a tub in the house, when you getreddy to go to bed then you can wash. Ifyou think you can’t stand it as cold as itcomes out of the spring you can take thecold off of it a little the first time or two,but after you wash a few times you willnot mind the cold, the first time youwash you had better take a little soap anda cloth and rub hard. have some one to

rub your back where you can’t rub, whenyou are done washing rub off with a drycloth every time, you need not use thesoap only the first time, but the clothevery time. You must commence at yourhead, put the wather on your head plen-ty of it put it on with your cloth or pourit on if you can stand it. we have tried itall of us and we think it makes us feelbetter every time we do it. Rhada thinksit helps her she has not had the headachefor a good while until last Saturday she

had a spell of the collera morbus andheadache, she was afraid at first to try thecold water on her head but I persuadedher to try it she said it did not ache sobad any more, I washed her off thatnight, the next day she went about herwork I feel anxious for you to try it. youneed not think it will cure you rite in a

hurry I think if you will follow it up for awhile it will be sure to help you if it doesnot cure you, it will make you feel verywarm for a while after you bathe if youfeel like I do it is said that the healthymust bathe to keep them healthy, and thesick to make them well, I want you to letAngetine read this I think she had betterbe trying it two I will send you a pam-phlet to read if I can get one enough ofthis for the present . . .

Courtesy of Manuscripts and FolklifeArchives, Western Kentucky University

Splish Splash: Hydrotherapy, 1830s-styleDid Kentuckians of 1830 bathe enough?Not according to a letter writer from Indiana

Page one:The letter is three pages in all.

“We have tried it all of us and we think it

makes us feel better every time we do it.”

8 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

DESPITE living in an era ofvirulent racism, the Rev-erend William Henry Shep-pard cut a wide—indeed aworldwide—swath. Sent to

the Belgian Congo as a Presbyterian mis-sionary, he conducted anthropologicalresearch that earned induction intoBritain’s Royal Geographical Society atthe age of twenty-eight. He documentedand publicized the murderous abuse ofthe Congo’s people by Belgium’s KingLeopold, leading to international fame,high-profile speaking tours, and a sensa-tional trial in which he prevailed. He wasamong the first Americans to appreciateand collect African art, and to endeavorto educate others to that taste. Thoughstill well-known in Belgium, and a hero tothe people of the Congo, William Shep-pard is little known in Kentucky, wherehe spent his final fifteen years. But he washardly anonymous at the time of hisdeath in 1927 in Louisville—an interra-cial crowd numbering more than a thou-sand attended his funeral.


William Sheppard spent the last fifteen years of his life as aPresbyterian pastor in Louisville—an existence that bore little resemblance

to his previous role as a world-famous defender of human rights.

Cutting a Swath

William H. Sheppard at the time of hisinduction into the Royal GeographicalSociety in 1893.




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WILLIAM Henry Sheppard wasborn in 1865 in the last days ofthe Civil War in Waynesboro,

Virginia. His father,William, was the sex-ton of the First Presbyterian Churchthere, and his mother, Fannie, worked inthe summer at the spa at Warm Springs.His parents were African-American buthis mother was a freedwoman. He wasnot born a slave since offspring of a freemother were also legally free. As a boy,Sheppard went to a white Presbyterianchurch, where he and the white childrenwere separated for Sunday schoolinstruction. He attended Waynesboro’s“Public Colored School,” but learnedmore while working as a servant for awhite dentist and his wife, Dr. and Mrs.S. H. Henkel. The Henkels, Sheppardsaid, “spent much time in instructing mein my books at night.” William and theHenkels remained lifetime friends andcorrespondents. It was surely a highlyunusual relationship at that time.

As a teenager, he worked as a waiterand saved enough money to enroll atHampton Institute (now Hampton Uni-versity) in Hampton, Virginia, a highschool for training African-Americansand Indians as teachers. Sheppard

attended the night school headed byBooker T. Washington, whose studentsworked ten hours a day, followed by twohours of instruction. On Sundays, Shep-pard worked with the chaplain at Hamp-ton in establishing a mission Sundayschool in Slabtown, a nearby African-

American community. He was a personof remarkable energy—his schedule atHampton was typical of his work ethicthroughout his career.

Sheppard went from Hampton Insti-tute to the newly formed TheologicalInstitute (now Stillman College) inTuscaloosa, Alabama, originally organ-ized to “secure as soon as practicablemissionaries from among the Africanrace on this continent who may bear thegospel of the grace of God to the homesof their ancestors.”With ordination cameappointments to Presbyterian churches inMontgomery in 1887 and in Atlanta in1888, but William continuously appliedto the church hierarchy for missionaryservice in Africa.

Eventually, Sheppard’s applicationwas approved and he was given a partner,a white Alabaman named Samuel Lapsley,the son of former slaveholders and a yearyounger than Sheppard. Lapsley had dis-tinguished himself during an outstandingacademic career at the University ofAlabama, Union Theological Seminary inVirginia, and McCormick Seminary inChicago. Doing pastoral work in Chicago,Lapsley discovered, as he explained to hisbrother, “I like black folks very much.”

Lapsley and Sheppardwere charged with estab-lishing a mission in WestCentral Africa, removedfrom the coast, separatedfrom other missions, yet nottoo distant from the base ofsupplies on the Atlantic.

They traveled the EastCoast raising money fortheir mission, including avisit to President WilliamHenry Harrison, whoencouraged them and pro-vided letters of introduc-tion. Among their support-ers was a former Confed-erate Brigadier General,

Senator John Tyler Morgan of Alabama,whose encouragement was based in parton the premise that their mission wouldpave the way for the departure ofAfrican-Americans from the UnitedStates to the Congo and open new mar-kets in Africa for American goods. Laps-

ley and Sheppard took support whereverthey could obtain it.

The endeavor was very controversial,and Lapsley regretted in a letter that theywere advised not to visit Richmond and St.Louis, “as we might thus sooner removeprejudice and indifference which remainsin some minds toward our work.” Thecontroversy stemmed from white South-ern Presbyterians’ misgivings about the fit-ness of African-Americans for missionarywork, indifference to the salvation ofAfricans, the cost of the venture, or doubtsabout the mass exodus of African-Ameri-cans back to Africa which Senator Morganhoped for. Ironically, some of the supportfor the mission, as well as opposition to it,was based in racism.

With the approval of the Foreign Mis-sions Committee of the southern Presby-terian Church (Presbyterian Church in theUnited States), Lapsley and Shepparddeparted. After visits to London and Brus-sels, they arrived at the mouth of theCongo River on May 9, 1890. Lapsley’sletters to his family are all full of high admi-ration for Sheppard. The Alabaman wroteof his very favorable regard for his part-ner’s diplomatic skills, for his recruitingability in rounding up laborers, and for hisathletic abilities—all skills Lapsley appar-ently lacked. Lapsley described Sheppardas “a man of unusual graces and strong

Sheppard and his partner, Samuel Lapsley, established their mission at Luebo.There is still a Presbyterianpresence in Luebo.

William Sheppard is now littleknown in Kentucky, where he

spent his final fifteen years, but he was hardly anonymous at

the time of his death in 1927 in Louisville—an interracial

crowd numbering more than athousand attended his funeral.


10 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

points of character.” Sheppard was verygood at sign language and practical matterswhile Lapsley was the one who, because hespoke French, dealt with government offi-cials and political affairs. In the era inwhich Jim Crow (racial discrimination)laws were being enacted in the UnitedStates, these two missionaries becamemore than partners—they became friends.

They had different missionary styles.Lapsley tried to impress the Africans withthe power of the Christian God, and was notabove purchasing slaves so that they wouldbecome converts. Sheppard, on the otherhand, attempted to befriend the people first,and did so by breaking the ice in a new vil-lage with his pet monkey, or by providingfood. He was an excellent big game hunter,and won the favor of the Kete people byproviding them with hippopotamus steaks.

LAPSLEY and Sheppard headedinland to establish their permanentmission. In his memoir, Pioneers in

Congo, Sheppard recounts their journey.They went by steamer to Boma, then 230miles overland to Leopoldville, named afterKing Leopold of Belgium, the man who

owned the Congo Free State. (Leopoldvilleis now Kinshasa, capital of the DemocraticRepublic of Congo.) The author JosephConrad made the same trip in the samemonth. Since he was English-speaking andthere were only 950 Europeans in the vastexpanse of the Congo at the time, it is high-ly likely the missionaries met Conrad, whobased his famous story “Heart of Dark-ness” on what he witnessed in the Congo.

Lapsley and Sheppard selectedLuebo, a village on the Kasai River, as the

site for their mission. From Kinshasa theytook a wood-burning steamer owned bythe Baptists, the Henry Reed, to the con-fluence of the Kwango and Kasai Rivers.The Henry Reed had been shipped fromNew York in 1884 and carried overlandby bearers in 500 loads before beingreassembled in Kinshasa. These mission-ary steamboats were a key to effectiveproselytizing in the Congo. They headed

up the Kasai to Luebo on another steam-er, the Florida, a far smaller boat whosecaptain insisted that his vessel could onlytake half of their supplies. They had onemisadventure after another: an attack bynatives, the rescue of a captured memberof their work crew, and an encounter witha dangerous storm and flood currents.Sheppard’s description of the trip is rem-iniscent of the movie The African Queen.

Though he was a committed mis-sionary who believed in the Christianmessage he had come to deliver, Shep-pard also, as historian John G. Turnerobserved, relished and embraced the roleof intrepid explorer. Africa,Turner wrote,gave Sheppard a stage upon which to dis-play a “primitive and robust masculinity”that a black man could never have gottenaway with in the racially oppressive Unit-ed States. At one point during the boattrip, he chided the Africans with him forbeing too timid to swim out and tie a ropearound a hippopotamus he had shot.They refused because the area was infest-ed with crocodiles. Sheppard recounted,“Taking the rope and putting the loop onmy arm, I jumped in and swam to thehippo. As I began to tie the rope aroundher nose, up came a monster crocodileand made a terrible lunge at her neck.Not a moment did I tarry to see what

effect his sharp teeth had on the hippo…Many times in Central Africa foreignersget into serious difficulties from whichthey cannot extricate themselves, by dis-regarding the advice of natives.”

IT took the missionaries a month to reachtheir destination. The steamer departeddownstream, with a vague promise to

return in nine months. Lapsley and Shep-

Sheppard, as historian John G. Turner observed,embraced the role of intrepid explorer. Africa

gave him a stage upon which to display a “robustmasculinity” that a black man could never have

gotten away with in the racially oppressive United States.

Sheppard the hunter with Kuba tribes-men. His attempts to convert the Kubato Christianity met with scant success.




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Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 11

pard were 1200 miles from the coast and800 miles from the nearest doctor or sourceof pharmaceutical supplies. Sheppard sur-vived 22 bouts of fever in his first year inAfrica, but in eleven months Lapsley wasdead. A Presbyterian stern-wheeler built atRichmond, Virginia for Congo missionarywork was named for him. Within a year itsank. Eventually it was replaced by a second,sturdier SS Samuel N.Lapsley, built in Glas-gow, which lasted on the Congo and Kasairivers for several decades. Lapsley’s succes-sor was William M. Morrison, who workedwith Sheppard for the next nineteen years inthe Congo.

The day after receiving news of Laps-ley’s death, Sheppard set out, as a memorialtribute to his friend, to explore the Kubakingdom located not far from Luebo. Heconvinced members of the mission settle-ment to accompany him by urging them tomake the trip in Lapsley’s memory. TheKuba were a large, reclusive tribe that dis-couraged visitors by beheading intruders.No Europeans or members of any otherAfrican tribe had ever visited the Kuba cap-ital, Lukenga. Sheppard aimed to changethat. He had taught himself the Kuba dialectby listening to Kuba traders who came toLuebo to barter goods. He had also learnedthe general direction of Lukenga, the namesof towns along the way, and the distancesbetween them.

At the first Kuba village, he persuadedthe chief to send someone with his (Shep-pard’s) guide to the next town to buy eggs.Using this egg ploy, he found his way fromvillage to village, winning the favor of thechiefs with gifts of cloth and cowry shellsand by joining them on hunting expedi-tions. He sometimes stayed in a village forweeks, trying to discover the next steptoward Lukenga. Eventually, word of theintruders reached the Kuba king, who senta troop of forty fighting men led by his son,Prince Maxamalinge, to intercept and killthe invaders, or at least drive them back.When confronted by the prince, Shep-pard’s first words to him were to plead forthe life of the chief of the village he was in,since he knew that chief would be in dangerfor harboring foreigners.The prince was soastounded to hear a black man dressed inEuropean clothes speak in the Kuba lan-guage, and for his words to be an expres-

sion of concern for a Kuba chief, that hedecided to go back to the king for guidance.The king’s council quickly concluded thatSheppard was a royal ancestor who hadreturned to life and, therefore, they receivedhim warmly when he reached Lukenga.Sheppard wrote in his memoirs:

Early in the morning we heard theblast of ivory horns calling the atten-tion of the people to put on their bestrobes and be in the town, men andwomen hurrying to and fro. Soontwo stalwart Bakuba with their redkilts on and feathers in their hatsappeared before my house andannounced their readiness to accom-pany me before King Lukenga.

They noticed an old brass buttontied by a string around the neck of onone of my men. Very politely they

removed it, saying, ‘only the king canwear brass or copper.’

I was dressed in what had oncebeen white linen. Coat, trousers, whitecanvas shoes and pith helmet.The offi-cials on either side took me by the arm;we walked a block up the broad street,turned to the right and walked threeblocks till we came to a big townsquare. Thousands of the villagers hadalready taken their position and wereseated on the green grass. King Luken-ga, his high officials and about 300 ofhis wives occupied the eastern sector ofthe square. The players of stringedinstruments and drums were in thecenter, and as we appeared a greatshout went up from the people. Theking’s servants ran and spread leopardskins along the ground leading to hismajesty. I approached with some timid-

Sheppard collectedthese objects in Africa.His wife, Lucy, gavethem to the Speed ArtMuseum in Louisville.

Top left: Axe,iron and wood.Unknown Kuba artist

Top right: Pipe, wood.Unknown Kuba artist

Left: Cloth, raffia, dyes.Unknown Kuba artist


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12 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

ity. The king rose from his throne ofivory, stretched forth his hand andgreeted me with these words, ‘Wyni’(You have come). I bowed low, clappedmy hands in front of me, and answered,‘Nydini, Nyimi’ (I have come, King).

Sheppard was a fine ethnographer, andprovided excellent descriptions of the Kuba.Lukenga, he reported, was a very orderlyurban community. “The town was laid outeast and west.The broad streets ran at rightangles, and there were blocks just as in anytown. Those in a block were always relatedin some way. Each block has a chief calledMbambi, and he is responsible to KingLukenga for his block.” Sheppard was espe-cially sensitive to the way the Kuba decorat-ed the surfaces of all their household goods.“They have a decided taste for the beauti-ful,” he wrote. “They decorate everything.”If he had done nothing else, Sheppardwould have a place in the annals of anthro-pology for his descriptions of Kuba societybefore extensive Western contact. For hisexplorations of the Kuba Kingdom, Shep-pard was inducted into the British RoyalGeographical Society in 1893.

The complex political system and elab-orate public ceremonies of the Kuba fosteredthe most highly developed court art in cen-tral Africa. “Their knowledge of weaving,embroidery, wood carving, and smelting,”

Sheppard wrote, “was the highest in equato-rial Africa.”The art historian and anthropol-ogist, Jan Vansina, has noted, “No introduc-tion to the visual arts of Africa omits theKuba, for theirs is no doubt one of the greatartistic traditions on the continent.” Shep-pard began collecting artifacts soon after hearrived in Africa. Hampton Institute pur-chased most of his collection in 1911. It pre-dates other African collections in the UnitedStates, with the notable exception of the col-lection of the University of Pennsylvania.Sheppard was one of the first Americans tofoster an appreciation of African art.

W ILLIAM Sheppard had one fur-ther great role in history, and thatwas to play a part in the chain of

events that ended King Leopold of Bel-gium’s private ownership and exploitationof the Congo. Leopold demanded that allCongolese work at least one out of everyfour weeks for him, hunting elephants fortheir ivory or harvesting the sap of the rub-ber trees. In 1899, Kuba tribesmen came toSheppard at his mission with tales of greatatrocities committed by the Zappo Zaptribe.The Zappo Zaps had become merce-naries and slave traders for the Belgian trad-ing company, the Compagnie de Kasai(Kasai Company).Their job was to punishthose who failed to deliver their quota ofivory or rubber.

Sheppard was reluctant to helpbecause the cruelty of the cannibalisticZappo Zaps was well known. He fearedthem, but, on orders from William Mor-rison, the head of his mission, he didinvestigate. The Zappo Zap had plun-dered more than a dozen villages andkilled scores of people who had fallenshort of their ivory and rubber quotas.Because he had once saved the life ofMlumba, the Zappo Zap raiding partyleader, Sheppard was allowed into thecannibals’ camp, where he found partial-ly eaten bodies and eighty-one severedhuman hands being cured over a slowfire. The hands would prove to KasaiCompany officials that the Zappo Zapshad done their job. Sheppard’s findings,confirmed by another missionary, wererushed to Belgian authorities, whodenied responsibility and took no action.King Leopold is said to have comment-ed, “I would happily cut off any of therest of them but not the hands. It’s theonly thing I have need of in the Congo!”

Sheppard wrote about his grisly discov-ery in missionary magazines. The articleswere widely quoted in Europe and Americaand helped build an association in the pub-lic mind between severed hands and theCongo.They also gave impetus to an inter-national reform movement that sought toend the Congo’s slave-labor holocaust,which by most estimates took the lives ofmillions of Africans (what Sheppard sawwas only a drop in the bucket). Sheppardand his colleague Morrison spoke about thehorrors on both sides of the Atlantic, and thereformers, led by the tireless English journal-ist E. D. Morel, attracted some prominentsupport, including Mark Twain. In KingLeopold’s Soliloquy (1905), Twain imaginedthe Belgian monarch complaining about thephotographs that damned him: “TheKodak has been a sore calamity to us. Themost powerful enemy that has confrontedus, indeed… The only witness I haveencountered in my long experience that Icouldn’t bribe.”

BUT the reform movement generat-ed only tepid responses from gov-ernments. The British House of

Commons managed only to unanimouslycondemn “bondage under the most bar-

King Leopold’s agents sometimes cut off their victims’ hands without killing them.The agents needed only the hands to claim their bounty.




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Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 13

barous and inhuman conditions, main-tained for the motives of the most selfishcharacter.” In America, the same SenatorMorgan who had earlier supported Shep-pard’s mission now discounted the relia-bility of the Presbyterians as witnesses inthe Congo, remarking that it “was not

necessary for idealistic missionaries toleave Virginia to find Negroes abused.”Elihu Root, then U.S. Secretary of State,later wrote: “The very people who aremost ardent against entangling alliancesinsist most fanatically upon our doingone hundred things a year on humanitar-ian grounds, which would have led toimmediate war. The Protestant Churchand many good women were wild to haveus stop the atrocities in the Congo. Thefact that we were parties to some earliertreaties gave some basis for an interest…People kept piling down on the Depart-ment demanding action on the Congo.We went the limit which wasn’t far.”

ONE of the many tragic aspects ofthe Congo holocaust was the dev-astation of the Kuba culture

William Sheppard so admired. In January1908 in the Kasai Herald, the newsletterthe mission published for supportersback home, Sheppard documented thedestruction of the Kuba, who were beingfined, flogged, imprisoned and killed.

These magnificent people, perhaps400,000 in number, have entered anew chapter in the history of theirtribe. Only a few years since, trav-elers through this country foundthem living in large homes, havingfrom one to four rooms in eachhouse, loving and living happilywith their wives and children, one

of the most prosperous and intelli-gent of all the African tribes…

But within these last three yearshow changed they are! Their farms aregrowing up in weeds and jungle, theirking is practically a slave, their housesnow are mostly only half-built single

rooms and much neglected.The streetsof their town are not clean and well-swept as they once were. Even theirchildren cry for bread.

Why this change?… There arearmed sentries of chartered tradingcompanies, who force the men andwomen to spend most of their days andnights in the forests making rubber, andthe price they receive is so meager that

they cannot live upon it… One canonly join them in their groans as theymust say: ‘Our burdens are greater thanwe can bear.’

SINCE the article was technically pub-lished in the Congo, the Kasai Com-pany, though not named in the article,

sued Sheppard (and Morrison as publisherof the Kasai Herald) for libel, demandingpunitive damages of 80,000 francs or sixyears in prison. The case was called atLeopoldville, 600 miles downriver from thePresbyterian mission. The missionaries didnot try to get a lawyer because they assumedthe court would automatically rule againstthem. But their supporters took action. Atthe request of reform leader E. D. Morel, theleader of the Belgian Socialist Party, EmileVandervelde, took the case pro bono. Thetrial, postponed to give Vandervelde time toget to Africa, commenced in October 1909.The case against Morrison had been dis-missed on a technicality, so Sheppard wasthe only defendant. He had recruited Kubatribesmen to testify on his behalf.The judgedid not allow them to testify, but all presentagreed that Vandervelde mounted a stirringdefense of Sheppard.

Sheppard with his wife, Lucy Gannt Sheppard, and their children,Wilhelmina and Maxamalinge.

Sheppard wrote about his grisly discovery in missionary magazines. The articles were

widely quoted in Europe and America and helped build an association in the public mind

between severed hands and the Congo.




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Two weeks later, the judge ruled inSheppard’s favor, saying that since he hadnot named the Kasai Company in his arti-cle, referring only to “chartered tradingcompanies,” he was not guilty of libelingthe company. In fact, the judge said, thearticle did not, by name or implication,refer to the Kasai Company at all (eventhough there was no other company oper-ating in the area that it might have referredto). It was a political ruling which, by notconvicting a U. S. citizen, protected Bel-gium from the wrath of the United States.At the same time, it finessed the ticklishquestion of the Kasai Company’s respon-sibility for the Congo atrocities.

Even before the case was decided, theBelgian government had finally forced KingLeopold to give up ownership of the Congo.He was handsomely compensated (and diedin 1910).This was a victory for the reform-ers, but much less than they had hoped for.Though conditions improved somewhatunder Belgian government ownership, asystem of forced labor persisted in theCongo for many years.

THE libel trial made William Sheppardan international celebrity. He went onthe lecture circuit, sometimes on the

same bill as his former teacher, GeorgeWashington Carver. In his book, The Crimeof the Congo, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sug-gested that the Congo missionaries’ courage

provided a finer display ofthe principles of libertythan Bartholdi’s recentlyerected Statue of Libertyin New York harbor.

Sheppard’s work inthe Congo ended in1910. He asked toretire because of illhealth, but the real rea-son was his admissionof adulterous liaisons(he was married withchildren) with Con-golese women. Hereturned permanentlyto the United Statesand was suspendedfrom the ministry for ayear. Presbyterian offi-cials did not publicly

reveal the reason for the suspension.In 1912, Sheppard was recruited to

work at the Hope Mission and Grace Man-sion in the Smoketown neighborhood ofLouisville. The two churches (later mergedas Grace Hope Presbyterian Church) werethe centerpiece of an extensive urban min-istry led by Dr. John Little, a white Presby-terian minister. According to John G.Turn-er, Sheppard quickly adapted to the defer-ential manner Louisville’s southern racialetiquette required of even a celebrity likehim.When he spoke at white church lunch-eons, he left before the meal to spare hishosts the discomfort of wrestling with theissue of segregated dining. An article in theCourier-Journal observed that he went abouthis work quietly,“as if he had never carved ahippopotamus for a flank steak.”

But his fame had followed him, and itwas useful. Within one year of arriving, hehad increased the size of the congregationby fifty percent (it had grown tenfold by thetime of his death). He increased activities atthe two missions, and began writing a seriesof children’s stories about African Chris-tians. Following a program like the one atHampton Institute, the Grace and HopeMissions provided classes in practical skillssuch as carpentry, sewing, weaving and shoerepair. Recreational, social and sports activi-ties were also offered at the missions, whichcontinue to this day as the PresbyterianCommunity Center.

Sheppard lived with his wife and twochildren near the corner of Breckinridgeand Jackson Streets in Louisville. OlderLouisvillians remember Dr. Sheppard rid-ing his bicycle through Smoketown,always waving to children. He was knownas “The Children’s Friend.” His wifeLucy became a social worker inLouisville, and his daughter Wilhelmina akindergarten teacher. She is well remem-bered locally, especially for the interest shefostered in art. A son, Max, named afterthe Kuba prince Maxamalinge, became asign painter and an artist. The late artistG.C. Coxe, whose father was a Presbyter-ian minister and a colleague of Sheppard’sat the Smoketown missions, rememberedlearning about African design from MaxSheppard in the 1920s and 1930s.

Though he had to put aside the robustand commanding persona of his Congodays,William Sheppard still made his markin Louisville. In his honor, the city openedthe William H. Sheppard Park at Seven-teenth and Magazine in 1924.The park pro-vided a swimming pool and playground forthe surrounding community. And in 1942,the Sheppard Square public housing com-plex opened. William Sheppard suffered astroke in 1926 and died in November 1927.He was 62. More than a thousand peopleattended his funeral, where he was eulogizedby black and white ministers alike. Thoughstill little known here in the Commonwealth,where he spent nearly a quarter of his life,his legacy of dedication to human rights andcourage in the face of oppression deservesboth study and celebration. l

Peter Morrin is Director Emeritus of the Speed Art Museum, and a member of the Department ofFine Arts, University of Louisville.

Sources/Further reading:Hochschild, Adam, King Leopold’s Ghost(New York, 1999).

Phipps, William E., William Sheppard: Congo’sAfrican-American Livingstone (Louisville: GenevaPress, 2002). This highly readable and comprehensivebiography encompasses all of Sheppard’s majorroles and places him firmly in his historical context.

Turner, John G., “A ‘Black-White’ Missionary on theImperial Stage: William H. Sheppard and Middle-Class Black Manhood.” The Journal of SouthernReligion, Volume IX.

14 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

Sheppard, second from the left, with Dr. John Little, headof the Louisville missions (left), and the Reverend Coxe(second from right).The man at far right is unidentified.

Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 15

KEITH Auerbach was eighteenwhen he first saw a photographemerge from the chemical bathin a darkroom. He was hookedfor life. Now 58,Auerbach holds

a degree in art history from NorthwesternUniversity and has also studied at the SanFrancisco Art Institute, the California Col-lege and Arts and Crafts, and privately withmany distinguished photographers.A nativeand current resident of Louisville,Auerbachis a member of the PYRO Co-op Gallery.For almost fifteen years his photos were fea-tured weekly in the Louisville EccentricObserver (LEO). His images have been pub-lished and exhibited widely, most recently atNew York’s Soho Photo Gallery.

In The Photographic Humor of KeithAuerbach, published in 2007, he made thisartist’s statement:

“I love taking pictures.“I see humor in ordinary instances,

and I try to photograph in such a waythat the images become intimate com-ments on living. I photograph feelingsand moods and enjoy anticipating, thencapturing, the one moment when the pic-ture is perfectly ripe.

“I love telling stories.“I have been told there is always a

human presence in my photographswhether or not there are people in the image.And I enjoy creating visual puns, unexpect-ed pairings, and a friendly but unfamiliarview of the familiar. Mostly, I watch and waitfor that one decisive moment when theocean can be measured in a drop.”


Louisville photographer Keith Auerbach looksfor the humor in life. He finds it by patiently waiting until ‘the picture is perfectly ripe.’

Above:Auerbach calls this “Self-Portraitwith MultiplePersonalities.”

DuckzillaOne patron had this imageblown up very large and hung it above his bed.Whenone turns the corner andenters his bedroom, there is a sensation of being runover by a gigantic duck…always a laugh.

EmergenceAn eternal ephemeral magic moment.

16 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 17

English BinocularsI think the man who designedthe English road system suchthat one must drive on the leftside was actually dyslexic.

Falling DiverSensitive timing, this is theonly picture I took of this.

18 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

Cow ConventionI called this convention by mooing. The cows werescattered all over the fielduntil then and they congregated when I began.I am bilingual—English and Cowese.

The ConversationTaken from the horse’s point of view.

Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 19

Intimate MomentShared by a longtime couple.

Zurich MonsterWhen you are young, youlook for monsters under yourbed.When you are older, youignore them when they are in front of you.

20 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

Asmall crowd gathered inHarrodsburg’s Spring HillCemetery on May 6, 2000,to lay one of the town’s bet-ter-known citizens to rest.

Many of those in attendance were familymembers, friends, and people from hischurch. Among the mourners that daywere members of a very exclusive club,one whose numbers could only dwindle:the men of Company D, 192d Tank Bat-talion, who had survived the Battle ofBataan, the Bataan Death March, andthree long years in Japanese prisons.These men, known collectively as theHarrodsburg Tankers, had come to buryone of their officers:William H. Gentry.

Company D of the 192d Tank Bat-talion was a Kentucky National Guardunit that had been in existence since theearly 1930s. It was based in Harrods-burg, drawing most of its membershipfrom that town and Mercer County.Sent to the Philippines just before theoutbreak of the Second World War, thecompany and its battalion won numer-ous citations and performed great featsbefore succumbing to the Japanese tide.One of the most prominent and decorat-ed of the Harrodsburg men was FirstLieutenant William Gentry, who on oneoccasion saved the American forces in

the Philippines from destruction andwon the first U.S. tank-vs-tank victoryagainst Axis tanks in the war.

WILLIAM Gentry was born inMercer County on November19, 1918, the youngest of three

children of James and Harriet Gentry of

McAfee. He graduated from McAfee HighSchool, and there befriended two futurecomrades: Archibald Rue and James VanArsdall. All three joined the NationalGuard in 1936, lured by the uniforms, thesteady paycheck, and the dim prospects foremployment elsewhere during the GreatDepression. They couldn’t have imaginedwhat fate had in store for them.

Private Gentry was assigned as amechanic to the local National Guardunit, the 38th Tank Company in Harrods-burg. The 38th was a relatively new unit,formed in 1932. It was the only tank unitin Kentucky’s National Guard, and oneof a very few in the entire United States.This gave the men some pride and feelingof exclusivity. Almost all of the unit’smembers came from Mercer County, andits roster read like a list of well-knownlocal families. The company had noarmory—it met above a restaurant forweekly drill. The tanks (old World War Iera models) were housed at members’homes, and soldiers were paid for thetime it took to drive back and forth todrill. The 38th passed its inspectionsevery year and frequently paraded atevents like the Kentucky Derby. In 1937,the company responded to flooding inFrankfort, and later helped quell laborunrest in Eastern Kentucky.


Willliam Gentry was a member of a National Guard unit from Harrodsburgthat ended up in the middle of the biggest American defeat of World War II.

He survived, but many of his comrades didn’t.

A Kentuckianon Bataan

Lt.William Gentry of Harrodsburg, 1941.His comments in this article come froman interview in the Oral History Collec-tion of the Kentucky Historical Society.




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Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 21

In September 1940, the 38th TankCompany was officially redesignatedCompany D, 192d Tank Battalion. Thischange placed them into a larger unitwith Guardsmen from Wisconsin, Illinois,and Ohio. All four companies first met inNovember 1940 when the Harrodsburgmen were called into Federal service andsent to Fort Knox for training. Just beforethe unit shipped out for Knox, those whowished were given discharges. “All themen who left Harrodsburg… were volun-teers,” Gentry later remembered proudly.By then a Staff Sergeant and trainedradioman, Gentry was part of a groupthat numbered five officers and 86 enlist-ed men. Conditions were primitive:“When we arrived at Fort Knox, thebuildings were not complete, and the areawas covered with a sea of mud . . . themud would be six inches deep on the bar-racks floors.” Manpower shortages forcedsergeants like Gentry to pull latrine duty,

a task usually reserved for the lowest-ranking private.

After just a few weeks at Fort Knox,Sergeant Gentry entered an officer train-ing program and was commissioned aSecond Lieutenant in early 1941. He wasassigned to the 192d’s new HeadquartersCompany as communications officer. Hesupervised the 192d’s radiomen, taughtradio communications and electronics atFort Knox, and assisted with processingincoming draftees: “We were able tohandpick the men that we wanted in ourbattalion to fill us up . . . we were able tobuild a battalion of extremely good men.”

During the spring and summer of1941, the 192d coalesced as a unit underthe command of Colonel Bacon Moore,the former commander of Company D.For the first time, each unit received a fullcomplement of modern M1 and M2tanks. Officers and men became profi-cient with weaponry and tactics “to the

nth degree,” according to Gentry. In Sep-tember 1941, the 192d participated inlarge-scale maneuvers in Louisiana,where the weapons, units, and men of themodern U.S. Army were tested undersimulated wartime conditions. A group ofofficers from Washington (includingGeneral George Patton) observed themaneuvers, and they concluded that the192d was an outstanding unit and readyfor overseas service.

By the fall of 1941 tensions with Japanand Germany were high, and U.S. garrisonsaround the world were being strengthenedin expectation of hostilities.A U.S. embargoof Japan was pushing that nation’s resources

This painting vividly portrays a U.S.Stuart tank in action in the Philipines.This tank is from the 194th Battalion, aNational Guard unit to which many ofthe Harrodsburg tankers were assigned.

U.S. Army National Guard Bureau

22 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

to the breaking point, while in the Atlanticthe U.S. Navy fought an undeclared waragainst German submarines. The largestU.S. garrison overseas was in the Philip-pines, where General Douglas MacArthur,commander of the U.S. Army Forces in theFar East (USAFFE) was pleading for rein-forcements and equipment.The PhilippineArmy had been called into U.S. service inJuly of 1941, and was feverishly training tofight the Japanese.

After the Louisiana maneuvers, theHarrodsburg men knew they were head-ed overseas, but the destination initiallywas a mystery. Less than an hour afterfirst seeing the code word for their des-tination (PLUM), Gentry and his com-rades had figured it out – Philippines,Luzon, Manila. As the men prepared togo, the army forcibly discharged all menjudged too old for overseas service,including Colonel Moore at age 56.Colonel Theodore Wickord of Illinois,age 34, took his place. Anyone who didnot want to go overseas could get anautomatic transfer, but Gentry notedthat “again, the 66 who had left Har-rodsburg going to the Philippine Islands,volunteered for the second time for themission we had to accomplish.”

THE 192d went by rail to the WestCoast and sailed from San Franciscoin early November 1941. For 29 of

the 66 Harrodsburg men, that was the lasttime they would see the United States.

After an uneventful voyage, the 192d land-ed in Manila on November 27, 1941. OneFilipino general wrote at that time that“the war for all practical purposes is on inthe Orient,” and his opinion was sharedthroughout MacArthur’s USAFFE. Thetankers’ greeting at the dock brought hometo the men that they were in the thick of it:“Draw your firearms immediately; we’reunder alert.We expect a war with Japan atany moment.”

The battalion was stationed at FortStotsenburg, one of the largest supplydepots in the Philippines. Next to FortStotsenburg was Clark Field, the largestairfield in the islands and one of only twothat could support heavy B-17 bombers.The Kentuckians soon developed unoffi-cial ways of informing the folks backhome they had arrived safely. Gentry laterremembered “that within a very few hours[of the arrival] at Fort Stotsenburg wewere in contact with the States, using theham band… In fact, we were in contactwith Dix Dam right on Herrington Lakewithin a matter of two or three hours afterwe had our first radio in operation. In fact,I sent a message to my mother.”

The 192d now joined the 194th TankBattalion (two companies of West CoastNational Guard tankers that had been inthe islands since September) and formedthe Provisional Tank Group underColonel (later Brigadier General) JamesR.N. Weaver, a conscientious officerdetermined to prepare his men for the

coming struggle. (Most of the Harrods-burgers—Company D of the 192d—weretransferred to the 194th to fill out thatunit, but Lieutenant Gentry stayed withthe 192d as communications officer.) Onpaper, the Provisional Tank Group lookedfierce, numbering some 998 officers andmen with 108 tanks. As the men unloadedtheir M3 Stuart tanks, however, they soondiscovered that the designers had notreckoned with prevailing conditions inthe Philippines. For one thing, the Stuartswere too heavy for most of the bridges onLuzon. Most of the tankers had trainedon earlier models—they needed practiceon the new M3s. Ammunition, gasolineand spare parts were misplaced or notavailable. As General Weaver later said,“Accordingly, tank operation was notaccomplished to familiarize the personnel– 35% new to any kind of tanks, all new tothe M3 tank.” Despite these limitations,Weaver’s group was posted around ClarkField in early December to bolster the airdefense of that area.

FOR William Gentry, the SecondWorld War began with a radio reportfrom Hawaii in the early morning

hours of December 8, 1941 (because of theInternational Date Line, Manila is almost afull day ahead of Honolulu). The tankersassumed their duty stations while Gentry’sradiomen gathered what information theycould about the Japanese bombing of theU.S. base at Pearl Harbor. Despite pleas toMacArthur’s headquarters, the 35 B-17s atClark Field did not receive orders to strike.As a precaution, all of Clark Field’s morethan 100 planes took off that morning toavoid getting caught on the ground by aJapanese raid. Seeing no enemy planes afterseveral hours, the Americans landed and by11:45 A.M. most pilots and antiaircraftcrewmen were having lunch. At that

Lingayen Gulf is off the map to thenorth, and Japanese troops are markedby red arrows. Cabanatuan is along themap’s north edge, and Fort Stotsen-burg/Clark Field is to the west near theZambales Mountains. Calumpit andPlaridel are in the center of the map,and Gentry’s unit is marked with thearmor symbol.


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Gentry’s tank unit routedthe Japanese at Baliuag

The bridge at Calumpit

Luzon, the main islandof the Philippines

Clark Field

The 46-mile Bataandeath march endedat San Fernando

Bataan Pennisula

Gentry was imprisonedby the Japanese atCabanatuan

Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 23

moment, a Japanese raid hit Clark Field.Lieutenant Gentry and his comrades werein the mess hall. “Most of the men . . . stoodthere with their mouths open, observing theplanes, watching the bomb bays open andthe bombs start to fall.” Japanese fighterszoomed in and strafed the field, despiteAmerican antiaircraft and tank fire. In lessthan an hour, Clark Field was knocked outof action, with over 53 planes destroyedagainst just seven Japanese planes shotdown. Seventeen of the 35 precious B-17swere smashed. At a stroke, MacArthur’sforces had virtually lost their air cover.

The next weeks were spent preparingfor the inevitable Japanese invasion ofLuzon. “From [December 8] on we neversaw the inside of a barracks,” Harrodsburg-er Ralph Stine recalled. Japanese air raidsharassed the tankers as they moved aroundLuzon to bolster the American and Filipino(Filamerican) infantry units defending like-ly landing beaches. MacArthur’s commandwas divided in two: the North Luzon Forceunder Major General Jonathan M. Wain-wright, and the South Luzon Force underMajor General George M. Parker. The194th (including the Harrodsburg compa-ny) supported Parker’s command, whileWilliam Gentry and the 192d moved northto assist Wainwright’s forces on the beachesat Lingayen Gulf. The 192d’s men beganimprovising the tactics required by their newdefense-oriented mission:“Our training hadall been offensive training. I can’t rememberany particular phase of our training at FortKnox that we ever had defensive action; itwas always offensive,” remembered Gentry.

On December 22, 1941 GeneralMasaharu Homma’s Japanese 14thArmy began landing at Lingayen Gulf innorthwestern Luzon. Two days lateranother force landed on the Bicol Penin-sula in southeastern Luzon. MacArthurplanned to defend on the beaches andthrow the invaders back into the sea, butFilamerican counterattacks on the 22ndand 23rd failed due to poor reconnais-sance, poor coordination, and poorlogistics. Much of the 192d was kept outof action, but a platoon from CompanyB (Illinois National Guard) met Japan-ese tanks on the 22nd and suffered onetank knocked out and four damaged outof five engaged. Japanese tanks proved

to have heavier guns (47mm v. Ameri-can 37mm) and sloped armor whichhelped deflect shells. This was the firsttank-against-tank action by U.S. forcesin the war, and it was a decisive defeatfor the Americans.

By Christmas Eve it was apparentthat the Lingayen Gulf landing repre-sented the main Japanese effort, and itwas aimed at Manila, about 140 miles tothe southeast. The 194th moved to theNorth Luzon Force to help stall the 14thArmy’s advance. MacArthur also real-ized that his plan to defend the beacheshad failed; the only hope now was towithdraw in the face of the Japaneseadvances. Prewar planners had prepareda scheme for withdrawing to the BataanPeninsula and Corregidor Island (on thewestern end of Manila Bay), and onChristmas Eve MacArthur ordered theplan put into effect.

The withdrawal plan, known as WPO-3, called for an intricate series of delayingactions as the North Luzon Force heldopen the road to Bataan from southernLuzon. The North Luzon Force was tooccupy successive defense positions whileParker’s South Luzon Force raced northand west around Manila Bay to reachBataan by New Year’s Eve. If Wainwright’smen could not hold, the southern contin-

gent would be cut off and annihilated.American armor would play a critical partin delaying the Japanese advance; as Illi-noisan William Hauser said later, “Therewould have been no Bataan if the retreathadn’t been covered by the tanks.”

JUST before WPO-3 was activated,Lieutenant Gentry was sent to Com-pany C of the 192d to “help out” the

Ohio officers. He took command of thecompany and became responsible forhelping shield the North Luzon Force’s

eastern flank. The southward-flowingPampanga River divided the Filamericanlines in half. The direct road to Manilawas on the east side of the river alongwith the key road junctions of Plarideland Baliuag and the bridge at Calumpit.The forces east of the river (two Filipinoinfantry divisions plus part of the 26thCavalry Regiment and Gentry’s tankforce) would face the main Japaneseeffort to capture Manila.

One of the major defense lines was atCabanatuan, a place that would latermean much more to all the Americans onLuzon. At first, the Americans had prob-lems communicating with the Filipinos,many of whom had never seen a tankbefore. The tankers were often the last topull back, shielding the infantry opera-tions. As Gentry later related, “We spreadout on a wide front, some times as manyas twenty-five miles with a single compa-ny [15 tanks], with no support to speakof.” Officers and men alike went dayswithout sleep, and supplies (especiallygasoline) were sometimes hard to comeby, but despite these hardships thetankers successfully held off the Japanese.

Wainwright’s men slowly withdrewsouthward during the last week of 1941,and by New Year’s Eve the tankers andinfantry were just north of Plaridel and still

waging a successful defense. The SouthLuzon Force arrived and began crossingthe Calumpit Bridge, detaching sometroops to hold Plaridel. Once the columnshad crossed the river, the Plaridel force(including Gentry’s tanks) would with-draw and the bridge would be blown by 6A.M. on New Year’s Day 1942. Itappeared that the withdrawal to Bataanwould be completed without a hitch.

Suddenly a command misunderstand-ing upset this careful design. GeneralMacArthur gave Brigadier General Albert

The 192d went by rail to the West Coast and sailed from San Francisco in early November 1941.

For 29 of the 66 Harrodsburg men, that was the last time they would see the United States.

24 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

M. Jones command of all troops east of thePampanga River, but for some reason Gen-eral Wainwright was not informed of thischange. At noon on New Year’s Eve, think-ing everything was clear, Wainwrightordered the infantry at Plaridel to cross thebridge. But General Jones still had troops onthe road to the Calumpit Bridge, and Wain-wright’s order removed their protection justas the Japanese showed signs of mounting

an attack.The situation was critical—some-thing had to be done to keep the road open.

General Jones turned to the only forceavailable to him: two platoons of Compa-ny C, 192d Tank Battalion under Lieu-tenant William Gentry, numbering 10tanks.The tankers were sent north of Plar-idel to the village of Baliuag to delay theJapanese as long as possible. Gentry andhis men encountered enemy patrols on theway north, so “we knew that they were wellon us.” As the armor arrived they foundthat the Japanese were securing the north-ern and eastern approaches to Baliuag,and had lookouts in a church steeple.

One platoon was placed south oftown, while Gentry took the other intoBaliuag and disguised the tanks in nipahuts, with the cannons pointing out win-

dows. By mid-afternoon the ambush wasready as the Japanese started to move intotown. Gentry was about to spring thetrap when a major from headquartersdrove into Baliuag and alighted at Gen-try’s hut. In a tone that must havestrained military decorum, Gentryexplained that “we were sitting therelooking at a collection of Jap tanks out inthe field and, also, the Jap lookout in thechurch steeple was quite excited as towhy he was there… the only thing for [themajor] to do was to get in the jeep anddrive out of town just as though nothinghappened.” Chastened, the major did ashe was told and sped southward.

At about 4 P.M. the American tanksopened fire, surprising the Japanese tanksand infantry. The platoon south of towndrove the enemy into the streets of Bali-uag, whereupon Gentry’s tanks explodedout of their hiding places. For the nexttwo hours, a wild melee ensued. Gentrylater crowed, “We were chasing the tanksup and down the streets of the town,under buildings, through buildings. We…left the town burning” and put all theJapanese tanks and infantry to panickedflight.When Company C pulled back thatevening, eight Japanese tanks had beendestroyed without a single loss on theAmerican side. Gentry’s tank accountedfor four of the destroyed Japanese tanks.The only U.S. casualty, said one partici-pant, “was a sprained ankle when one ofthe boys attempted to get off the tank in ahurry to tell his part of the story after thefight was over.” The men had every rightto be excited: Harrodsburg native WilliamGentry and his Ohioans had just won thefirst American tank-vs-tank victory overAxis forces in the Second World War.

GENTRY’S success stalled theJapanese long enough for all Fil-american forces to pull across the

Calumpit Bridge, and by 6 A.M. on NewYear’s Day the bridge was blown. Afterone more short stand, the tankers retiredinto Bataan and had their first rest andrefit since the war started. By January 7,1942, MacArthur’s forces stood readyon Bataan to repel any further Japaneseadvances. However, in the hasty with-drawal not enough food made it to the

After MacArthur’s forces fell back to themiddle of the Peninsula on January 26,the Japanese attempted landings atCanas Point, Quinauan Point, and Lon-goskayan Point but were repelled in theBattle of the Points.The Battle of thePockets took place along the Toul River.


t P



s of



an W







Bataan Peninsula

The death marchbegan at Mariveles

Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 25

peninsula in time; the Bataan garrisonimmediately went on half rations.

MacArthur’s line stretched acrossthe peninsula’s base from Abucay toMauban, with a break around ruggedMount Natib. Wainwright’s force,renamed I Corps, held the western sectorwhile Parker’s command (II Corps) tookover the east. The Japanese repeatedlyattacked the Abucay position head on,but failed to break through. Flankingoperations over Mt. Natib finally suc-ceeded in driving the Filamerican forcesback. On January 22 MacArthur ordereda retreat to a new position halfway downthe peninsula, running from Orion toBagac. Four days later his forces were inposition and reorganizing for their laststand on Bataan.

Flushed with victory, Homma’s menclosed with this new line and attackedimmediately. Most of the assaults wererepulsed after several days of intensefighting, but a deep penetration in Wain-wright’s line (later known as the Pockets)took three weeks to wipe out with theassistance of Gentry and the rest of the192d Tank Battalion.

In addition to the frontal attacks,Homma sent several battalions ofinfantry to land on the west coast ofBataan and smash supplies and rear-area

installations. These landings (named thePoints) were met with a scratch force ofPhilippine Scouts, pilots converted toinfantry, and other rear-area troops. Gen-try’s company also assisted with eliminat-ing these beachheads, which the Japanesedefended to the last man. He laterdescribed the tactics used by CompanyC’s Lieutenant John Hay and some of hismen: “[Hay] would force the Japaneseinto their foxholes [with the tanks] and, asthey passed over the foxholes, the menwalking behind [each tank] would leaveeach one a present of a hand grenade.”By mid-February the exhausted Japanesepulled back to regroup, and for the nextsix weeks a period of calm settled overBataan.

The defeat of the Points and Pock-ets attacks was the first time Alliedforces had stopped a Japanese offensive,and was the first American victory in thePacific War. More importantly forMacArthur, the victory ensured the con-tinued survival of the Bataan forces forthe time being. However, poor rationssoon began to wither the men, and dis-ease also took its toll. By April 1 theBataan garrison’s 76,000 men weredown to only 25% effectiveness. Theyalso had a new commander: MacArthurdeparted for Australia on March 11,1942, turning over his command(renamed U.S. Forces in the Philippines,or USFIP) to General Wainwright.

The final Japanese blow fell on GoodFriday April 3, 1942. By the evening ofApril 6 the Luzon Force’s line wasirreparably broken; Japanese units raceddown the east coast of Bataan. Theirobjective was Mariveles, a harbor atBataan’s southern tip where the head-quarters, hospitals, and supplies of theLuzon Force (previously the Bataan gar-rison) were located. Troops gatheredaround Mariveles for a last stand, buteveryone sensed the end was near. Tosave his men from massacre, General

At about 4 P.M. the American tanks opened fire,surprising the Japanese tanks and infantry.

The platoon south of town drove the enemy into the streets of Baliuag, whereupon Gentry’s

tanks exploded out of their hiding places. For the next two hours, a wild melee ensued.

Troopers of the 26th Cavalry Regiment move past a Stuart tankbelonging to the 192d Battalionduring the retreat to Bataan.An Illinois survivor said the tank is either from Company B or Company C of the 192d.Company C was the one Gentry led to victory at Baliuag.


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26 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

Edward P. King surrendered his LuzonForce on April 9, 1942—the largest capit-ulation in U.S. history.

GENTRY and his tankers were on thewest side of Bataan during all this,and participated in the effort to repel

the Japanese attacks. On the morning of the9th the men received the code wordCRASH and destroyed all their tanks,weapons, and other equipment. After two

days of waiting the Japanese took charge andsent the men to Mariveles.There they beganthe Bataan Death March, one of the worstatrocities of the Pacific War. Of the 76,000Filamericans who surrendered on April 9,only 54,000 survived the Death March—anightmare that began on April 10, 1942 andlasted two weeks. It consisted of a 46-mileforced march from Mariveles to San Fer-nando, followed by a train ride north toCapas.The surviving prisoners then walkedthe final eight miles to a prison camp at FortO’Donnell, a former American base.

Gentry, wracked with malaria, spent11 days on the march with only one riceball to eat and seven canteens of water tosustain him in the tropical heat. He wouldlater say that “three or four days of it Idon’t even remember. The fellows in theunit took turns carrying me along theroad.” His men undoubtedly saved Gen-try’s life, as most stragglers were shot orleft for dead on the roadside.

After several weeks at Camp O’Don-nell, the American prisoners moved to anew compound at Cabanatuan.There theyjoined other Americans from Corregidor,which had surrendered on May 6. Filipinoprisoners were released as part of a gener-

al amnesty. In October 1942, Gentry wasmoved to a farm on the southern island ofMindanao, where he grew rice as a forcedlaborer. Although the rations were some-what better than at Cabanatuan, Mindanaowas a “nightmarish memory” for thosewho were there. On June 6, 1944, Gentry’sill health compelled a return to Cabanatu-an. He caught a case of dysentery later thatyear which kept him at the camp whilethousands of his more able-bodied com-

rades were sent toaway on HellShips to For-mosa, Japan, orChina.

MeanwhileU.S. forces hadadvanced backtoward Luzon.MacArthur, ful-filling his famouspromise to return,landed at Lin-gayen Gulf onJanuary 9, 1945,

and within three weeks had driven to nearCabanatuan. Freedom came to WilliamGentry on January 30, 1945, when the 6thU.S. Ranger Battalion liberated the campand evacuated him and over 500 of his fel-low prisoners to American lines, an eventlater immortalized in the 1945 film Back toBataan and 2005’s The Great Raid. Threeweeks later he was sent back to the UnitedStates, and spent several months in hospitalbefore being promoted to Captain and dis-charged from the Army. For his actions onLuzon and Bataan, Gentry was awardedtwo Silver Stars, one Bronze Star, one Pur-ple Heart, the Philippine Defense Medaland the Good Conduct Medal.

CAPTAIN Gentry went home toHarrodsburg after the war, one ofonly 37 men from the original

Company D to return from Bataan. Hespoke about his experience shortly afterreturning home and friend Louise Deanremarked that “as always, he had thatwonderful smile.” Gentry later marriedand had two sons and a daughter. Heworked at Corning Glass in Harrods-burg for 25 years, and Dean remem-bered him as “a good and honest man”

with “a twinkle in his eye for allwhomever he came to know.”

Gentry was active in veteran’s organi-zations, and appeared at the dedication of amonument to the Harrodsburg Tankers in1961. Like a good officer should, hechecked on the other survivors to see howthey had adjusted to life back home in Ken-tucky. He transferred to a Corning facility inDanville,Virginia, and later retired to Flori-da.William H. Gentry died in Roanoke,Vir-ginia on April 25, 2000. He was buried inHarrodsburg on May 6, the 58th Anniver-sary of the surrender of Corregidor.

For students of Kentucky’s militaryheritage, the 192d Tank Battalion and theHarrodsburg Tankers rank as a significantpart of the state’s legacy. In 1945 the U.S.Army awarded two Presidential Unit Cita-tions to the Provisional Tank Group fortheir actions in the Philippines. WilliamGentry and his comrades played a key partin earning these honors, and the citation isthe last word on their careers: “This unitcontributed most vitally… to the protrac-tion of the operations and the successfulwithdrawal… These units [also] main-tained a magnificent defense and throughtheir ability, courage, and devotion to dutycontributed in large measure to the pro-longed defense of the Bataan Peninsula.” l

Christopher L. Kolakowski has spent his careerinterpreting and preserving American militaryhistory. He has worked for the National Park Ser-vice and the Civil War Preservation Trust, and isnow executive director of the Perryville Battle-field Preservation Association. Kolakowski holdsan M.A. in Public History from the State Universi-ty of New York at Albany. He has written numer-ous articles. This one is based on a talk he cur-rently offers through the Kentucky HumanitiesCouncil’s Speakers Bureau.

Note on Sources: An interview with William Gen-try is in the Oral History Collection of the Ken-tucky Historical Society. The author wishes tothank Jim Opolony of the Proviso School (Illinois)Bataan Research Project for pictures andsources, and Louise Dean of Harrodsburg forsharing her memories of William Gentry. StuartSanders and Don Rightmyer of the Kentucky His-torical Society provided sources and encourage-ment, as did Colonel Arthur Kelly of Frankfort.Special thanks to Jerry Sampson and the Harrods-burg Historical Society for their assistance and forhelping keep the 192d’s memory alive.

To save his men from massacre,General Edward P. King surrendered

his Luzon Force on April 9, 1942—the largest capitulation in U.S. history.

Of the 76,000 Filamericans who surrendered, only 54,000 survived

the Death March.

Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 27

FIRST Lieutenant Frank Kolband his infantry company wentdown in history as the first U.S.troops “to set foot on Germanground” in World War II, but the

Western Kentuckian never claimed creditfor the feat. “It was a good day anyway,” hesaid in a 1999 interview. “I didn’t lose any-body.”

Kolb died in 2000 at age 77. He wasretired from Kolb Brothers Drug Co. inPaducah, his family’s business. A Paduc-ah native who lived in Mayfield after thewar, Kolb earned four Silver Stars, aBronze Star and a Purple Heart in sevencampaigns with the First Infantry Divi-sion. He might have been the youngestcompany commander in the storied “BigRed One.”

Kolb was 21 when he fought his waythrough the Siegfried Line, Adolf Hitler’svaunted defense barrier, and trod Germansoil near Aachen. The date was Sept. 13,

1944. Kolb made headlinesin the Stars and Stripes, theGI newspaper. “The storyalso got in the New York Timesand a lot of other papers,” hesaid. Kolb made it into a his-tory book, too. “Kolb’s menwere the first American sol-diers to set foot on Germanground,” wrote Irving Wer-stein in The Battle of Aachen.“At least my name wasspelled right in the book,”Kolb said, grinning. “It waswrong in all of the papers.”

After Kolb and his menbreached the Siegfried Line, aStars and Stripes reporterinterviewed the young lieu-tenant. He got the story right,but not Kolb’s name. “Afterten years of talk about theSiegfried Line, 21-year-old1/Lt. Bob Kalb, of Paducah,Ky., took his companythrough it without a casual-ty,” the reporter wrote.“SinceKalb and his men forced thefirst opening, the armoredunit working with this crackinfantry division has been pouring throughthe gap.” Lieutenant “Kalb” told thereporter, “We knocked out about 15 or 20pillboxes, I guess.” Kolb kept a clipping ofthe Stars and Stripes story. The reporter isstill a journalist, but on national networkTV—Andy Rooney of CBS’s 60 Minutes.

Kolb said other First Infantry sol-diers may have beaten his outfit into Ger-many. Some Third Armored Divisiontank crews claimed they were the first.“What does it matter who was first?”Kolb asked. “I didn’t think it was thatimportant then. I still don’t.”


Frank Kolb of Paducah led the first American soldiers‘to set foot on German ground’ in World War II.

If only Andy Rooney had spelled his name right…

First Men In

On the day he led the first American unit into Germany, Frank Kolb “was just glad noneof my men had been killed.”

“The back door would fly open, and

the Germans would come running out.

They found a woman with one group, a

good-looking blonde.”

By September, 1944, Kolb wasalready a battle-hardened veteran. TheGermans captured him in combat inNorth Africa, but he escaped. He foughtthrough Sicily. He landed on OmahaBeach on D-Day and then fought acrossFrance to the German border, guardedby what the enemy called the “Westwall.”The Allies nicknamed it the “SiegfriedLine.” Three miles deep on average, theconcrete and barbed-wire bulwark bris-tled with “hundreds of mutually-support-ing pillboxes, troop shelters and com-mand posts,” wrote Charles B. MacDon-ald in his book The Mighty Endeavor.“Where no natural antitank obstacleexisted, German engineers had con-structed pyramidical concrete projectionscalled ‘dragon’s teeth,’ draped in parallelrows across hills and valleys like somescaly-backed reptile.”

Similarly, Rooney described the widedefense belt as “a series of strategically-placed pillboxes. In the hilly country ofthe border, roads run through the valley,and the Germans placed the fortifiedconcrete igloos in positions which com-manded the only possible entry for vehi-cles. On both sides of the roads, concrete‘dragon’s teeth’ extended for miles, pre-venting tanks from rolling over the opencountry between the road networks.”

When Kolb and his troops attackedon the morning of Sept. 13, 1944, theywere out front in “a general offensivealong every mile of the Westwall fromHolland to Switzerland,” Werstein wrote.Kolb and his men ducked and dodgedthrough the dragon’s teeth, meetingunexpectedly light enemy resistance.“The line would have been tough to crackif the Germans had had enough men toman it the way it should have been,” Kolbsuggested to Rooney.

Even so, Kolb knew he needed armorto knock out the German “igloos.” A pla-toon of tank destroyers—Sherman tank-

like vehicles with open-top turrets andpowerful guns—got the job done.“Our... [tank destroyer] fired at some ofthem from about 20 yards and blastedthem wide open,” Rooney quoted Kolbas saying. “They’d roll right up and fire a90-millimeter shell through the aper-ture,” Kolb recalled in 1999. “The backdoor would fly open, and the Germanswould come running out. They found awoman with one group, a good-lookingblonde.” Sometimes, Kolb said, the Ger-mans surrendered as soon as a 31-ton

tank destroyer pointed its long-barreledgun at their pillbox. “The ordinary Ger-man soldier had enough sense to give upwhen he knew he was beaten.”

After a while, the rest of Kolb’s bat-talion passed through his company. Heremembered talking to Don Whiteheadof the Associated Press, another famouswar correspondent, in a break from bat-tle. “I was just glad none of my men hadbeen killed. I don’t think any of themhad even been wounded.” Kolb’s buddyfrom Paducah, “Skippy” Skinner, wasn’tso lucky. By chance, Kolb spotted him inanother company that moved ahead of

his outfit. “I told Skippy, ‘Don’t forget toduck.’” A German tank shell killed Skin-ner hours later.

Looking back, the historian Wersteinwrote that by punching through theSiegfried Line and capturing Aachen, theAmericans won a great victory, “a har-binger of what was to befall the nationwhose people and leaders had dreamedof ruling the world.” Kolb, who madecaptain before he turned 22 and foughtall the way to the German surrender onMay 7, 1945, said victory and defeatdon’t always seem so clear to a soldier incombat. He recalled an incident when hewas fighting in Italy.

“My little walkie-talkie could pick upthe BBC [British Broadcasting Corp.] if Iwas up high enough. I remember climb-ing up on this hill in Sicily and hearing allabout ‘the victorious American army.’We’d had the hell beaten out of us thatday and hadn’t gained a thing.” l

28 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

It was during the Battle of Aachen (topright of map) that Kolb’s unit enteredGerman territory.

Berry Craig is a professor of history at West Ken-tucky Community and Technical College in Padu-cah and a member of the Kentucky HumanitiesCouncil Speakers Bureau.

“Kolb’s men were the first American soldiersto set foot on German ground,” wrote

Irving Werstein in The Battle of Aachen.

Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 29

“WHAT’S the use?”That’s how oneof my colleaguesresponded to theannouncement

that Transylvania University intended tohost a seminar on the meaning of liberaleducation for faculty members from liberalarts colleges throughout the nation. Enti-tled “Twenty-first Century Liberal Educa-tion: A Contested Concept,” the sympo-sium invited the presidents and academicdeans at 215 of the nation’s most promi-nent small colleges to nominate membersof their faculties to attend a conference inAugust 2006 to talk about the future of lib-eral education.The seminar was sponsoredby Transylvania with the assistance of thePhi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s oldestand most respected liberal arts honorarysociety. In all, 21 people, including two rep-resentatives from the national headquartersof Phi Beta Kappa, participated in thefour-day event. Its sessions were led byTransylvania faculty members associatedwith the school’s Center for Liberal Educa-tion. (Transy conducted a similar seminar


Are the liberal arts still useful in the twenty-first century? A Transylvania Universityprofessor argues that they are—and that liberal education is endangered

by the emphasis on making students not just better, but successful.

Channeling Socratesin the Bluegrass

Participants at the 2006 TransylvaniaUniversity symposium “Twenty-firstCentury Liberal Education: A ContestedConcept.”








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ey A


30 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

in 2007, and plans to continue to do soannually.) “I mean,” my skeptical col-league hastened to explain, “don’t wealready know what a liberal education is?”

He certainly had a point. We shouldknow what liberal education means. Afterall, we were all professors at institutions ofhigher learning which were explicitly dedi-cated to precisely that. My colleague’s ques-tion revealed the fear that our seminar wouldbe little more than yet another dreary talk-fest, full of insipid and gaseous platitudes.Something rather like sitting through a four-day-long commencement address.

My colleague’s skepticism is preciselywhy such a seminar is so necessary today.The fact is that those of us who are engagedin liberal education don’t have a clearunderstanding as to what we are all about.We’ve been confused about it for sometime. As long ago as the 1940’s, a report ofthe Progressive Education Association put

it bluntly, “Liberal arts college faculties sel-dom state clearly what they mean by liberalor general education. Perhaps they do notknow.” This really hurts, given that know-ing things is the job of college professors.Perhaps our problem is just the opposite.Maybe we know too well what liberal edu-cation means because it has too manymeanings for us. As the chair of the NewYork City Board of Higher Education stat-ed, “There are about as many characteriza-tions of the meaning of liberal arts as therehave been writers on the theme.” Part ofthis embarrassment of conceptual richesmay be due to the fact that we are more likefaculty members at research universitiesthan we think. We tend to see ourselves aspolitical scientists or biologists or musi-cians, rather than as liberal educators. As aconsequence, our understanding of liberaleducation—to the extent that we thinkabout it at all—is framed by our separatedisciplinary blinkers.

This state of confusion will probablynot surprise many people outside the acad-emy. The public’s perception of academicsis that we are a pretty woolly-headed lot.The befuddled, absent-minded professor isa stock comic figure. This image has beenaround for a very long time—as long asthere have been individuals who think for aliving. Consider the case of Thales, the firstof the Greek nature philosophers, who isreported to have fallen into a well as hewalked along looking up at the stars in con-templation of the order of the cosmos. Orconsider Socrates, who was lampooned inone of Aristophanes’ comedies for living in“cloud-coo-coo-land” and ruining the stu-dents at his “Think Academy” for anythinguseful, at least as usefulness was defined bytheir fathers. (And recall what the Atheni-ans finally did with Socrates. Sometimes thepopular image of intellectuals is no laughingmatter.) Such anti-intellectual sentiments

prevailed even in the Golden Age of Intel-lect. The Renaissance dramatist GiordanoBruno expressed the opinion of many at thetime when he had a character in one of hisplays utter the lines, “But, if the truth wereknown, these pedants are nothing butworms, who do not know how to do any-thing well, and are born only to gnaw, soiland hurl their dung upon the studies andlabors of others; and being incapable ofbecoming illustrious through their ownvirtue and talent, they seek to advancethemselves through the vices and errors ofothers.”

In our society as in Bruno’s, it is widelyfelt that too much education is useless, per-haps even deleterious to one’s well-being.WeAmericans have urgent things to accom-plish, and we are impatient with the sort ofnavel gazing that interferes with our practi-cal concerns. We all know that those whocan, do, while that those who can’t, teach.This is all the more true when it comes to

the liberal arts. Daniel Webster was speakingfor many Americans of his day and ourswhen he observed,“Indeed, it appears to methat what is now called a liberal educationdisqualifies a man for business.” In the1970s, a book entitled The OvereducatedAmerican presented statistical evidence thatcorporations were less and less interested inhiring liberal arts graduates.At a recent pub-lic forum on postsecondary education in theCommonwealth sponsored by the Ken-tucky Chamber of Commerce, an executiveat a manufacturing firm in the Bluegrassstated that he actually discouraged hisemployees from pursuing further education“so they don’t become too mobile.”

While pointing in somewhat differentdirections, both the book and the business-man betray a profound skepticism about thepractical value of liberal education for careeradvancement. Of course these views arebreathtakingly short-sighted. But my pointis that they express a no-frills pragmatismcharacteristic of out nation, in which thebusiness of American education is, indeed,business.Whenever I talk to students here atTransylvania my audience wants to hearhow a liberal education will prepare themfor future careers in their chosen profes-sions.Their focus, like that of the society atlarge, is on utility. Given today’s intensifyingcompetition for employment, its growingimperatives for specialized and technicalexpertise, and the spiraling costs of highereducation, who can blame them?

NEVERTHELESS, vocational train-ing is not liberal education. Whatmakes education liberal is its distinc-

tive purpose. Liberal education aims at thedevelopment of a theoretical appreciation ofthings. In this context, teaching meansrevealing to students that secret gardenwhich is the life of the mind. It involves shar-ing with them its delights, inviting them tovisit it on their own, showing them how toget there, and training them how to distin-guish the flowers from the weeds. But liber-al education is more than a journey to apleasant spot. It is also a process of libera-tion. It presents students with a world ofalternatives standing in opposition to thedespotism of the conventional. Liberal edu-cation is thus the activity of challengingone’s theoretical and moral commitments.

The Greek idea of education entailed the formation of character according to some cultural ideal of

human excellence. It was intended to make people better rather than merely successful.

Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 31

Our goal is to make students conscious oftheir own perspectives and sensitive to theimplications of their choice. The awarenessof one’s standpoint is a necessary precondi-tion of emancipation from the tyranny ofintellectual parochialism. It is the very foun-dation of free thought and action.

To put the point somewhat differently,liberal education seeks to confront our stu-dents with themselves—as individuals, asmembers of a community and as part ofthe human species. Liberal teaching, then,is much more an act of guiding self-discov-ery than it is an act of conveying a body ofknowledge or a set of skills. Specific coursematerial is the vehicle for liberal education,but it is not the destination. Whatever thesubject matter, the real objects of theinquiry in liberal education are the studentsthemselves. Liberal education proceedsfrom the Delphic injunction to “KnowThyself.” It takes seriously the Socraticaphorism that “The unexamined life is notworth living.” Liberal education introducesstudents to what Robert MaynardHutchins called the “Great Conversation”which humanity has been having with itselfabout what it means to be human. Itsemphasis is on the plurality of answers andon their vigorous cross-examination, forliberal education is much less about pro-viding students with the answer to the bigquestions of life than it is about instilling asense of importance of the questions them-selves. What is known as the “Socraticmethod” is precisely this dialectical enter-prise of constantly questioning one’s sup-positions in order to arrive at a betterunderstanding of the truth.

Needless to say, liberal education is noteverybody’s cup of tea. But for people whovalue it—and they are often those who tookthe liberal arts while they were undergradu-ates—it tends to be one of the most signifi-cant and transforming experiences of theirlives. Just ask them.And a bit more thought-fulness about the meaning of life probablywouldn’t harm anyone.

WHAT motivates Transylvania’sseminar is not just that the publicis confused and skeptical about

liberal education, but that we liberal educa-tors are too. But before we throw up ourhands in exasperation at these feckless

pedants, we need to remind ourselves oftwo things. First, some kinds of confusionare constructive, especially if they lead tokeener insights about the matter at hand.And second, despite the many disagree-ments over the years as to the meaning ofliberal education, there has also been a con-tinuing sense of what it is. Seeing it throughthe thicket of academic disputation, howev-er, it is a bit tricky.Will Rogers used to quip,“The problem isn’t what people don’tknow. It’s what they do know that really isn’tso.” He probably wasn’t thinking about lib-eral education at the time, but he mighthave been. For the challenge in finding lib-eral education is made more difficult by

those who point us in the wrong direction.The task of the Transylvania seminar is toseparate the gold ore of liberal educationfrom the copper pyrite of its imitators. Todo this, we need to review a bit of history.

The Roman statesman Cicero is thefirst person who is recorded to have used theterm “liberal arts.” The fields of study whichhe identified as “liberal”—philosophy,mathematics, music, literature, rhetoric,geometry, astronomy—all derived from theclassical Greeks to whom Rome was deeply

indebted.The century between 420 and 322BCE in Athens witnessed the emergence ofboth a consensus about liberal educationand many of its enduring debates.The con-sensus was, in the words of an eminent his-torian of ancient education, “… that educa-tion is the making of men [and in those daysit was males], not training men to makethings.” Aristotle famously distinguishedbetween liberal education, which was appro-priate for free individuals pursuing the“good life,” and “servile education,” whichwas appropriate for slaves or wage-earnerswho had no choice but to pursue the “mere-life” of remunerative employment. Needlessto say, times have changed. But this shouldnot blind us to a crucial understanding.TheGreek idea of education entailed the forma-tion of character according to some culturalideal of human excellence. It was intendedto make people better rather than merelysuccessful. Athenian educators such asSocrates and Isocrates united in their oppo-sition to the Sophists, for whom higher edu-cation was nothing other than a process bywhich technical skills (specifically, rhetoricalones) were acquired solely as instrumentsfor the pursuit of wealth and power.Socrates and Isocrates strongly disagreedover questions such as: What should bestudied and how should it be taught? and atwhat human ideal should education aim?These are important issues to be sure, butthey both presumed a common aim of edu-cation, which is the human development ofthe person being educated.

These debates have continued to thepresent day. Of course they have alsoevolved. The conflicting ideals of humanexcellence, and hence the aims of liberaleducation, have undergone a number oftransformations in the more than two mil-lennia since Socrates. Consider the vast dis-continuities in what people living at the timeof the Roman Empire, medieval Christen-dom, the Renaissance, the Protestant Refor-mation, or modern industrial society havethought about human nature and humanpurpose. Despite their significant differ-ences, however, what all of these concep-tions shared was an emphasis on a cultiva-tion of the self, whether understood as one’smoral character, immortal soul, creative andartistic spirit, enlightened mind, well-round-ed personality or engaged citizenship.

The author, Jeffrey Freyman, directsTransylvania University’s annual symposium on liberal education.








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32 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

FAST forward the story to mid-19thcentury America, where one finds 700institutions of higher learning, almost

all of which (despite the appellation of “uni-versity”) were liberal arts colleges dedicatedto the educational ideal of the “Christiangentleman.” Their curricula focused heavi-ly on the mastery of Greek and Latin texts,culminating in a seminar on moral philoso-phy often taught by the college’s president,who was usually an ordained minister serv-ing at a local church. Students were gener-ally the sons of the local gentry. Teachingrelied on rote memorization of largely irrel-evant material about which they had littlechoice and even less interest. Liberal educa-tion of this sort was hardly edifying. Smallwonder that the experience had severe crit-ics both within the academy and the largersociety. Its elitism and classicism wereattacked for being incompatible with thedemocratic impulses of the first new nation,increasingly confident in its self-emancipa-tion from the dead-hand of all things pastand European. Its literary and theologicalorientation did not square with the emerg-ing scientific and technological spirit of theage. And its focus on personal cultivationwas considered a wasteful luxury that hadno place in America’s competitive, com-mercial society.

Americans saw little use in such aneducation, and they voted with their feet.In the decades immediately prior to the

Civil War, many old time colleges hemor-rhaged students and faced financial col-lapse.The situation was so grave at Tran-sylvania by the 1840s that plans weredrawn up to convert the college into anormal school for training teachers tomake ends meet. Following the Civil War,the surviving liberal arts colleges con-fronted an even more severe challengefrom the newly founded large and oftenstate-supported universities whichembraced a democratic, scientific andutilitarian ethos so contrary to their own.The competition for students and fundsposed by these new institutions led to direpredictions of the impending demise ofthe liberal arts college.

Like Mark Twain’s comment uponreading his own obituary, we now knowthat statements concerning the death ofliberal education have been greatly exag-gerated. Since the beginning of the 20thcentury, two types of friends of liberaleducation have tried to preserve it againstthe onslaught of the specialization andutilitarianism in universities. Both arepartially right and partially wrong aboutthe meaning of the tradition they aredefending. With the best of intentions,each confuses questions about the pur-pose of liberal education with questionsabout its content. One group—let’s callthem the traditionalists—has sought topromote education’s humanistic aim byreasserting the virtues embodied in thecurriculum of the past. Their inspirationis a mythical Golden Age. Just as theantebellum liberal arts college defined lib-eral education in terms of the mastery ofa limited set of classical texts, so 20thcentury traditionalists such as RobertMaynard Hutchins and Allan Bloom havetied it to a specified canon of “greatbooks” representing The Best That Has

Been Thought And Said In Western Civi-lization From Plato To NATO. But liber-al leaning should never become idola-trous in this way, that is, too worshipfultoward particular pedagogical sacredcows or golden calves.While this materialis much broader than the required Latinand Greek texts studied in the 19th cen-tury, it nevertheless inevitably ignores thevery real experiences of much of human-ity. No wonder traditionalism is widelyrejected for its elitism, dogmatism andexclusivity. In fact, the way traditionalistshave tried to defend liberal education hasprobably done more to hurt its cause thanhave its worst enemies.

The other group—the modernizers—has proceeded from the notion that liberaleducation is not defined by a particularsubject matter.This group includes follow-ers of the pragmatist philosopher JohnDewey, who welcomed virtually any sub-ject matter which reflected student interestsand needs as the basis of a liberating edu-cational experience. Contemporary mod-ernizers such as the Association of Ameri-can Colleges and Universities (AACU)seek to blur the distinction betweenhumanistic and utilitarian education. Forexample, the AACU recently sponsored aconference encouraging colleges to adoptundergraduate courses in the field of Pub-lic Health as part of their liberal educationcurriculum. It is not an accident that thisfield is a projected growth sector of oureconomy, especially given the heightenedconcern for homeland security. It is a vital-ly important subject to be sure, but is it lib-eral education?

One modernizer linked to the AACUhas recently written of a “third way” ineducation, in which “higher education isevolving a new paradigm for undergradu-ate study that erodes the long-standing

As John Churchill, national secretary of Phi Beta Kappa, explained: “For years as a dean

I told the first year students: ‘You are not ourcustomers. The college does not exist to satisfy

your desires. The college exists to bring it aboutthat you have different desires.’”

John Churchill speaking at the 2006 Transylvania symposium on liberal education.








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Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 33

divide between liberal and professionaleducation.” True to its philosophical foun-dations, this move is nothing if not prag-matic. As our modernizer explains, “Theinitial impetus for bridging the liberal-pro-fessional divide was practical. Throughoutthe 1970s and 1980s struggling liberal artscolleges found they could maintain enroll-ments by offering career-related subjects.”Necessity, it is said, is the mother of inven-tion.What modernizers propose is that lib-eral educators respond to enrollmentimperatives by merely re-inventing liberaleducation as vocational training. Ifprospective students want pre-professionaltraining rather than liberal education, theysay, why then let’s just call the former bythe latter and give them what they want inthe name of liberal education.Try as muchas modernizers might, their invocation ofDeweyan philosophical precepts cannotperform the alchemy of turning baseopportunism into golden principle.

There is a very short step indeed fromdismissing any distinction between liberaleducation and vocational training to actual-ly defining liberal education in terms ofvocational training. And, unfortunately, lib-eral educators are becoming very adroit attaking this step. Consider the commentmade to me by my skeptical colleague(remember him?) who reluctantly hadattended a talk on liberal education which Igave to prospective students and their par-ents at our college. All that talk about self-development is well and good, he said, butfor him liberal education means the broad-est possible training in a set of skills that willbe useful in the ever-changing job market ofthe 21st century. He is not alone. A radioseries on educational reform at EasternKentucky University, aired on WEKU in thefall of 2006, similarly emphasized this voca-tional dimension of liberal education. Pro-posals at EKU for teaching more courses in“critical and creative thinking” were justifiedas producing “graduates who know how toevolve as the economic machine evolves, sothere is always a demand for their services.”Liberal education as the cultivation of one’shumanity is thus transformed into the accu-mulation of one’s human capital.

Taking the argument a step further is arecent issue of the AACU publication PeerReview, which is explicitly dedicated to

“Liberal Education and the EntrepreneurialSpirit.” One of its contributors offers thethesis that liberal education is not merelygood for entrepreneurs, but that entrepre-neurship is actually a liberal art in its ownright. Just consider the implications of sucha proposition. Instead of relying on tediousinstruments like examinations or termpapers to assess student performance in ourliberal arts courses, professors could nowmerely calculate the total return on theirinvestment portfolios. This gives a wholenew meaning to the phrase “value added”used by those who want to measure thechanges brought about by four years of lib-eral education. It is enough to make any self-respecting Socrates reach for his bottle ofhemlock.What is at stake is whether educa-tion should foster the appreciation of princi-ple or principal.

THESE notions are a far cry from thetraditional meaning of liberal educa-tion. It is probably true that almost

any subject in the hands of a Socratescould be turned into material for liberaleducation, but real-life Socrateses arehard to find. For the rest of us, subjectmatter does matter. As Phi Beta Kappaexplains in one of its publications:

“Liberal education seeks to quicken themind and spirit by encouraging the fulldevelopment of human capacities. It is true

that often a liberal education may have adefinitive market value and may in a sensebe considered vocational. It is true also thatvocational programs sometimes contain lib-eral content. Nevertheless, the main lines ofcleavage can, in practice, be seen. It is notdifficult to distinguish between broad culti-vation and technical competence.”

The real occupation for which liberaleducation prepares students is the job ofbeing human.The spirit of liberal educationwas wonderfully expressed by a former stu-

dent of the late Raymond F. Betts, who diedin 2007. She said that Betts, retired profes-sor of history at the University of Kentuckyand founding director of UK’s Gaines Cen-ter for the Humanities, “imbued studentswith the value of education as inspirationaland life-changing, not vocational. I dearlyloved and admired him.”

Modernizers offer a deceptivelyappealing ideal. The appeal is that studentsshould decide for themselves what is usefuland interesting to them. Education is thusreduced to catering to student preferences,however enlightened or not these might be.But the whole point of liberal education is toshow students that the world is larger thantheir experience of it. As John Churchill,national secretary of Phi Beta Kappa,explained in his plenary address to the Tran-sylvania seminar, “For years as a dean I toldthe first year students: ‘You are not our cus-tomers.The college does not exist to satisfyyour desires. The college exists to bring itabout that you have different desires.’ Ittakes courage to accept that invitation.”

So the modernizers want to refer tovocational training as liberal education.What difference does any of this make?Why worry about what activities we call“liberal education”? Isn’t it merely a seman-tic dispute, a tempest in an academic teapot?From an academic point of view, it is cer-tainly nice to know what we are talking

about when we discuss (endlessly it seems)liberal education.This is particularly impor-tant when the ideas are about what we aresupposed to be doing as liberal educators.Our current confusion is reflected in theincoherence of our schools’ curricula. Wesimply do not know what to teach our stu-dents because we do not know why we areteaching it to them. We continue to invokethe liberal education ideal at ceremonialmoments such as commencement address-es, but these are increasingly acts of academ-

Will Rogers used to quip, “The problem isn’t what people don’t know. It’s what they do know that

really isn’t so.” He probably wasn’t thinking about liberal education at the time, but he might have been.

34 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

ic ritualism performed without conviction.No wonder that an insightful observer of thechallenges facing liberal education todayconcluded, “At many of the hundreds ofschools that call themselves liberal arts col-leges, the term represents nostalgia morethan curriculum.”

IT is not only the colleges which pay theprice of our amnesia about the purposeof liberal education. Our students also

lose the opportunity of receiving the dis-

tinctive rewards from one.This is certain-ly not to suggest that liberal education isthe only valuable type of education. Peo-ple are people before they are lawyers orphysicians or accountants, and the role ofliberal education is to attend to theirdevelopment as such—but when youneed one, it is nice to have a competentlytrained lawyer or physician or accountanthandy. For much of its history, criticshave argued that too much emphasis wasbeing placed on the humanistic ends ofliberal education at the expense of othergoals. This is a valid debate, and we inacademe and in our society should notshy away from engaging in it. However,the modernizers’ sleight-of-hand meansthat liberal education, properly under-stood as self-questioning, somehow getslost in the shuffle.

In many ways, this sort of educationis all the more critical today. We live in aworld where technological imperatives,information overload, the “creativedestruction” of market forces, and thetotalizing logic of instrumental rationalityappear to reduce human beings to thestatus of things. Postmodern philoso-

phers have captured the anxious, dispirit-ed spirit of our age in their pronounce-ment of the “death of the subject.” Othershave characterized our postmodern con-dition as living in an ersatz world of “sim-ulacra” in which reality has become noth-ing more than spectacle in which we are“amusing ourselves to death.” We cometo sense that, according to one contempo-rary cultural critic, “all that is solid meltsinto air.” In a world starved for substance,liberal education is a kind of soul food. In

such circumstances, serious inquiryabout purpose in their lives is more thanjust a distraction for today’s college stu-dents. If not as undergraduates, thenwhen will they ever rigorously engage thebig questions about who they are andwhat they might become? And if theynever ask themselves these questions,what sort of life will they, and the rest ofus, live? This is the reason for preservingliberal education, however dimly under-stood by its caretakers in academe. Liber-al education is a precious but fragile thingwhich requires our attention in our fran-tically utilitarian age. Lacking that atten-tion, it is easily lost. And with it, so are we.

Which brings us back to the Transyl-vania seminar. Those of us who serve asthe stewards of liberal education need tobe reminded about what it is we arecharged with protecting. Caught up inthe teaching of our particular specialties,we tend not to worry about the vitality ofliberal education at all. When we do con-cern ourselves with it, we tend to thinkabout liberal education in ways whichreflect the flawed suppositions of its tra-ditionalists or modernizers. The former

conceives the tradition too narrowly anddogmatically. The latter treats it toobroadly and superficially. Both have losttouch with its distinctive purpose of crit-ical self-examination.

What’s good for the goose is good forthe gander.Transylvania’s seminar on lib-eral education is also an example of liber-al education. The focus of our conversa-tion was constantly on our own self-examination as liberal educators. Whatdoes it mean to be engaged in liberal edu-cation? How did we get here? Whereshould we be going? Once the questionswere raised and alternative answers pre-sented, participants were allowed—indeed encouraged—to decide these mat-ters for themselves. Part of the task of theseminar was to recognize the worth ofthose positions with which we may notagree. And participants did just that. Onewrote to me after the seminar that he hadbeen chosen to serve as the director of hisinstitution’s liberal education committeeand had begun to revise its curriculum toreflect more centrally the goal of self-dis-covery. Another informed me that he wasstarting a similar seminar for faculty athis own college. Needless to say, I foundthese developments quite heartening.However, another participant sent me acopy of an article he had just publishedlambasting the Transylvania seminar forits foolish insistence on the old-fashioneddistinction between liberal education andvocational training. Upon reading hispiece, I’m afraid my first thought was,“What’s the use?” l

Jeffrey Freyman is the Bingham-Young professorof political science at Transylvania University in Lexington, and director of the university’sCenter for Liberal Education.

If not as undergraduates, then when will they ever rigorously engage the big questions

about who they are and what they might become? And if they never ask themselves

these questions, what sort of life will they,and the rest of us, live? This is the reason

for preserving liberal education.

Kentucky Humanities • October 2007 35


MARK Sunday, February 10, 2008on your calendar! That’s the dayto be in Lexington for Our Lin-

coln, a grand gala marking the beginning ofthe celebration of the 200th anniversary ofAbraham Lincoln’s birth in Hodgenville,Kentucky on February 12, 1809. Lincoln’sbig birthday won’t actually arrive until2009, but the observances will run for twoyears, starting in 2008.

Presented by the Kentucky Humani-ties Council, Our Lincoln will give theobservances a flying start. EverettMcCorvey, Director of Opera at the Uni-versity of Kentucky, and Virginia Smith,the Council’s executive director, will pro-duce the gala. Jim Rodgers, former headof theater at UK, will direct. They haveplanned a multi-faceted event that willshowcase outstanding Kentucky talent:

• American Spiritual Ensemble:Spirituals

• Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra:Aaron Copeland’s Lincoln Portrait

• River of Time: An act from a newKentucky opera about the youngLincoln

• Nathan Cole, violin, and AkikoTarumoto, violin: A medley of CivilWar songs

• Margaret Garner, Emilie ToddHelm, Mary Todd Lincoln and Abra-ham Lincoln: vignettes from fournew Civil War-era Kentucky Chau-tauqua characters

• Kentucky Poet Laureate Jane GentryVance: A reading of her favorite Lin-coln poem

• One Man’s Lincoln: A cameo, per-formed by the Kentucky RepertoryTheatre, from Wade Hall’s dramaabout Lincoln as seen through theeyes of his law partner and fellowKentuckian, Billy Herndon

Our Lincoln promises to be bothexciting and edifying as it artisticallyilluminates the ideas and themes thatmake Abraham Lincoln Kentucky’sown. Please be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience in honor of theCommonwealth’s greatest son, madepossible in part by support from theLexington-Fayette Urban County Gov-ernment.

Our Lincoln Gala Kicks Off Bicentennial CelebrationThe Humanities Council will bring together a sparkling constellation of Kentucky talent for a Lincoln gala at the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts

Our LincolnSunday, February 10, 2008 at 7:00 P.M.Singletary Center for the ArtsUniversity of KentuckyRose Street & Euclid AvenueLexington, KY 40506-0241

Tickets:Box Office: 859/

Kentucky Chatauqua characters Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Margaret Garner and Emilie Todd Helm will performvignettes at the Our Lincoln gala. (Photos by Larry Neuzel)

Poet Laureate Jane Gentry Vance willread a Lincoln poem.

Nathan Cole will play a medley of Civil War songs.



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36 October 2007 • Kentucky Humanities

GrantsA limited number of $1,200 grants arestill available to nonprofit organizationsplanning humanities events related toAbraham Lincoln and his era. For guide-lines and application forms, please or call KathleenPool at 859/257-5932. Using funds fromthe Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicen-tennial Commission, the Council hasmade the following Lincoln grants:

• A House Divided (Mary Todd Lin-coln House, Lexington—$10,000)

• Abraham Lincoln at Farmington:Three Weeks in Louisville in 1841(Farmington Historic Home,Louisville—$10,000)

• Abraham Lincoln, the Shakers, andthe Civil War (Georgetown ScottCounty Historical Museum, George-town—$3,300)

• Forever Free: Lincoln’s Journey toEmancipation (Boyle County PublicLibrary, Danville—$4,000)

• Forever Free: Lincoln’s Journey toEmancipation (Hardin County Pub-lic Library, Elizabethtown—$7,700)

• Forever Free: Lincoln’s Journey toEmancipation (Lexington PublicLibrary, Lexington—$10,000)

• Hardin County, Kentucky: Lincoln,Family and Friends (Hardin CountyHistory Museum, Elizabethtown—$10,000)

• Interpreting Slavery at KentuckyHistoric Sites (Liberty Hall HistoricSite, Frankfort—$1,200)

• Kentucky Music and the LincolnFamily (Lexington PhilharmonicSociety, Inc., Lexington—$9,954)

• Kentucky Repertory Theatre pres-ents One Man’s Lincoln by Wade Hall(Kentucky Repertory Theatre, HorseCave—$38,000)

• Lincoln’s Legacy: A Musical Tribute(Hardin County Schools PerformingArts Center, Elizabethtown—$10,869)

• The Lincoln-Douglas Debates:A Cata-lyst for Emancipation (Frazier Histori-cal Arms Museum, Louisville—$1,200)

• The Presidents of Mount Rushmore:Leadership in Crisis (Nancy Hanks-Thomas Lincoln Wedding Reenact-ment Festival, Springfield—$10,300)

TalksThe following Lincoln-related talks arenow available from our Speakers Bureau.To see the details, visit us online or call our officeat 859/257-5932 and request a copy ofthe 2007-08 Whole Humanities Catalog.

• Margaret Mitchell’s Tara: Myth andReality—Diane M. Calhoun-French

• History Comes Alive: The Henry BibbProject—Diane P. Coon

• The Freedmen’s Bureau in Kentucky—Diane P. Coon

• Lincoln the Unloved—Berry Craig• Secret Women: Three Civil War Spies

and Their Stories—Donna M. Elkins• Wanted: Freedom—Dead or Alive—

Daryl. L. Harris• Memorializing Mr. Lincoln—Jonathan

Jeffrey• Kentucky’s Abraham Lincoln—John E.

Kleber• Perryville: Battle for Kentucky—

Christopher L. Kolakowski• Pariah: The Dark Legacy of General

Stephen Burbridge—James M. Prichard• A Surgeon’s Tale: Life and Death in the

Orphan Brigade—Hugh Ridenour• Lincoln and Clay: Great Orators in the

Age of Oratory—Allen Share• The Food and Culture of Abraham

Lincoln’s Kentucky Childhood—MarkF. Sohn

Kentucky Humanities Special EditionIn October 2008, the Council will publisha special expanded edition of KentuckyHumanities commemorating AbrahamLincoln’s 200th birthday. Noted Lincolnscholars will offer new perspectives onLincoln’s private life, political career, andintellectual development.

Lincoln ChapbookThis small book with text by Wade Hall,longtime Kentucky writer and BellarmineCollege professor, will fit in your pocket.Illustrated with a few of the best Lincolnphotographs, it will be your ready refer-ence for the life and times of Kentucky’sgreatest son.

Lincoln Bicentennial:The Rest of the StoryWe’re also offering Lincoln grants and talks, and preparing to publish a pocket-size book on Lincoln’s life, written by Wade Hall, as well as a special Lincoln edition of Kentucky Humanities


The Kentucky Repertory Theatre willperform One Man’s Lincoln in HorseCave with the support of a Lincolngrant and will do a scene from theplay at the Our Lincoln gala.



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