Wade Epps' Memorial Service Homily
Monday, June 15, 2009
The Princeton University Class of 1969 -- 40th Reunion
The Homily of Wade Epps
A Celebration of Life Remembering Our Departed Classmates
The University Chapel -- Saturday, 30 May 2009, 11:00 AM
The text is according to Leviticus 25:10: Proclaim Liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants there of.
The obligatory opening quote is by Howard Zinn from A People’s History of the United States: In Albany, Georgia, a small deep-south town where the atmosphere of slavery still lingered, mass demonstrations took place in the winter of 1961 and 1962. Of 22,000 black people in Albany, over a thousand went ot jail for marching and assembling to protest segregation and discrimination. Here, as in all the demonstrations that would sweep over the South, little children participated - a new generation was learning to act. The Albany police chief, after one of the mass arrests was taking the names of the prisoners line up before his desk. He looked up and saw a Negro boy about nine years old. "What’s your name?’ The boy looked straight ahead and said: "Freedom, Freedom.”
The subject is FREEDOM. Not so much any more, but when I used to be asked, "What did you learn at Princeton?” , I would refer to Joseph F. Strayer and his course, History 310: English Constitutional History. His premise was that redress for the concerns of an oppressed minority expands the freedoms the liberties of the entire society. In 1965, when we entered Princeton, freedom was not common place for all Americans. America was more constricted than today and so was this University. Segregation among races or ethnic groups was the law or at least the norm. America accepted apartheid as an appropriate system of economic and social exploitation and profit. Women could only obtain status as a reflection of their fathers, their husbands, or their sons. It was before the Stonewall Rebellion. It was before the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. It was before co-education at Princeton. Talent, opportunity and leadership were supposedly limited to straight, white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant males. Then, in 1965, I never imagined that the President of Princeton University would ever be a woman.
However, even if there was nothing else, by the time of our births, in 1947, it had been clearly evident that discrimination and the disregard for the free exercise of talent was hurtful to the capitalist profit motive and harmful to American prestige in the world. Not only could Jackie Robinson play baseball, he also helped the Brooklyn Dodgers make money. By the 1960’s, court decisions, legislation that watered down the force of the Constitution, protest demonstrations in the South, urban rebellions in the North, and an unpopular war in Vietnam, propped up by a questionable Gulf of Tolkin Resolution challenged the United States to choose whether freedom in America would be a fulfilled dream or a violent nightmare. Students did not create discontent; the government did. Stokley Carmichael revised Martin Luther King, Jr.’s mantra that no one is free until every one is free and ordered non Black participants in the Black struggle for civil rights to return home to their own communities and to fight for their own freedom there.
Princeton’s Class of 1969 may have been Princeton’s most diverse and all around class up to that point. It was the product of the Goheen experiment and prepared for co-education. Members of the Class of 1969, some whose memory we recall today, fought to redress their own repression in their own communities and thus expanded freedom for every one. The civil rights movement expanded to other movement for women’s rights, prison reform, Native American rights, gay rights, movements to eliminate physical barriers and to provide barrier free access, an anti-war movement, a peace movement, a movement to protect the environment, Latino rights and various political campaigns. Our business associations, our employment and entrepreneurial relationships, our friendships and our politics have found little comfort in the way that it has always been. We have not been made helpless and hopeless by outdated social convictions.
Members of the Class of 1969, some whose memory we recall today, became the change that we were looking for. Our achievement has been our success in an experiment in diversity. This success has enlarged our vision of freedom. It allows us to enjoy and to profit from the talents of all persons. We struggled to tear down structures and challenged institutions that limit human potential and the possibilities for our own lives and the lives of others. We took freedom for ourselves and we share it with others. We responded to the cry of people from all over the world to have a voice in determining the future of the globe. We rethought social roles. We rejected old concepts of inferiority. My classmates raised their daughters just as they raised their sons to seek creative significant profitable work for themselves and to encourage that for others. Talent was talent. It was not limited by race, color, creed, ethnic background, national origin, nor by sex, gender or sexual orientation. We did not limit success or greatness to an ability to speak French, to play bridge, and to dance. We have reconstituted and made plump raisins left in the sun. We have set Maggie, the cat, free from the hot tin roof.
Members of the Class of 1969, some whose memory we recall today, have served and will continue to serve the University well and will provide expanded visions of freedom for the nation and for the world. What our deceased classmates have done will not be lost in our memory. Everything ripens at its own time and becomes fruit at the right hour.
Praise Be to God. Amen!