Julius Scott was a peacemaker.
He was of a generation, and of a color, of Americans who could easily have been the opposite.
Therein lies a great lesson in the life of the soft-spoken educator who tried retiring to Hilton Head Island in 1994, but continued to be called to duty through much of the rest of his life. Dr. Julius S. Scott Jr. was 94 when he died last Thursday at his Sea Pines home.
He was the son of a Texas preacher and college president. He was an intellect who became professor, president, interim president or chaplain at 11 colleges and universities — yet he was denied admission to Southern Methodist University graduate school because he was black.
In the early 1960s, he marched for civil rights. He was jailed several times, including once in Selma, Alabama, for driving a car that held white people.
“We were hurt and abused,” he told our newspaper in 2001. “They put hoses on you in Nashville, Tennessee. People put cigarette butts out on your shoulders when you were walking by.
“But these kids (peaceful protesters) dressed up and they sat there. They were threatened and beaten. They were afraid, but they knew this would happen. But they knew that if they did this, life in America would change forever.”
In Beaufort County, decades later, he marched on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday each year. He had made friends with King after they met while studying at Boston University. After King was slain, and his widow, Coretta Scott King, founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, she asked Scott to be its director.
And at age 78, Scott practiced what he preached when he stood at the corner of William Hilton Parkway and Folly Field Road on Hilton Head with a group peacefully expressing dissent against a then-potential U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Scott served on community boards, was honored as pastor emeritus at St. Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church, and earlier this year was given the Penn Center’s greatest honor with induction into the 1862 Circle.
And in Beaufort County, Julius Scott tried to end racism.
Here’s how he said we could do that.
“It’s not enough to raise the tent once a year,” he said in an MLK Celebration Committee public forum. He said King’s dream will not be realized unless the community talks about the race issue year-round.
See the diamonds
Scott dedicated his life to historically black colleges and universities. He saw there the vast potential of the overlooked and stereotyped. Nothing made his point better than the 2007 movie “The Great Debaters,” starring and directed by Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey.
It’s about his alma mater, tiny Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and its debate team winning the national championship in 1935.
“Black colleges and universities are very, very important to America,” he told me at the time. “They contribute sociologists, poets, artists — some of the great music of the world is composed on these campuses — places where artists paint the picture of what America might be. They are a canvas on which are depicted the agonies and ecstasies of American life and culture.”
Society as a whole could learn from them.
“The ethos of these schools is very important,” Scott said. “There, the students and faculty are told they are somebody. It is very important to the democratization of the culture of America. These people come forward and contribute to society. They get a sense of what they are and what they can become. But also, what America can be.
“They can take the rough and unappreciated and make of them diamonds and jewels. That is what they did with these debaters.”
“Building a beloved community, one of King’s philosophies, first begins with communication,” Scott said.
“We need to be disturbed. We need to know each other — Hispanics, blacks, Jews, whites — everybody. We need to break through the patterns ... the language of distance.”
Scott was involved from the beginning when a group called Bridge Builders formed in 2016 at his church, St. Andrew, in response to the ongoing vitriol in politics and everyday life.
In monthly meetings, whites listen to the life stories of blacks. They have read together “Fear of the Other” by Will Willimon, watched “The Great Debaters” and “Corridor of Shame,” and discussed the movie “Hidden Figures.” The church’s Bluffton campus has paired with the First Zion Missionary Baptist Church to study the book of Acts together and share meals.
Scottie Lindsay of Hilton Head, who is part of it, says, “The best thing to come out of it is friendships.”
The last time I talked to Dr. Scott, he urged me in a faltering voice to attend what they called the first Julius Scott Lecture Series in June. Pastor and opera singer Peter Wherry of Charlotte spoke on “Faith and Race.”
Scott was never angry in any way.
That made him a beloved community leader, here and elsewhere.
That was noted in an editorial last week in Augusta, Georgia, where he led Paine College for many years, as well as the Medical College of Georgia. The Augusta Chronicle wrote: “While building a bridge to the community, he built the school to new heights. He helped increase both academic quality and faculty salaries. He also helped pull Paine out of debt. He won the respect of the college’s Board of Trustees and the admiration of the student body.”
The peacemaker got to go home peacefully.
Just two days before his death, Scott gave a little speech when he and Ianthia (Ann) celebrated 65 years of marriage, with their children present.
A memorial service is to be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, at St. Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church on Pope Avenue.