Zion New Jerusalem Church honors Fisk University

Carol Cresswell-Betsch; Li’Fran Fort’ Matthew Walker, Jr.; Jane Fort

Carol Cresswell-Betsch; Li’Fran Fort’ Matthew Walker, Jr.; Jane Fort

Zion New Jerusalem Church, under the direction of Rev. Inman Otey, honored alumni of Fisk University during their worship service. As graduates shared their stories, many commented and said, “Amen” in agreement.

Rev. Otey’s sermon about Fisk was entitled, ‘Fisk is a Divine Work of Art,’ using as a text James 2:22.

“You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did,” Rev. Otey. “It contains jewels of knowledge known around the world through various forms of art and literature. It has a culture to make our dreams come alive!”

Otey indicated some artists working at Fisk included: Langston Hughes, W.E. B. Dubois, Aaron Douglas, James Weldon Johnson, and Arna Bontemps.

Jane Fort attended nursery school at Fisk and also took music lessons there while attending elementary school. She is a 1955 graduate of Fisk. Jane is a social science major and did further study at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where she received her Master’s and her Ph.D. degrees. She said everyone was respectful of each other and welcomed the academic forces that continue to this day. Jane’s father and grandfather attended Fisk University, so the Fisk family tradition goes back several generations.

Matthew Walker, Jr. was a student at Fisk during the Student Sit-Ins. Walker said that one faculty member, Nelson Fuson, and his wife helped to integrate the campus. There were faculty members of different races who lived and worked on the campus. Fuson was a Quaker and helped with the Civil Rights training of the Fisk students. During preparation for the movement, Rev. James Lawson, one of the trainers for the movement, needed a church to use as a base to train the students. He selected Clark Memorial United Methodist Church for this purpose. Dr. Stephen Wright was president during the ‘60s. Matthew, Jr. said he is impressed by the new president, whom he said was “starting a Renaissance movement at Fisk, bringing it back to the way it was.”

Li’Fran Fort, art professor at Fisk, studied under the great art professor extraordinaire, Aaron Douglas. She attended Ford Greene Elementary and Pearl High School. She is a 1955 graduate of Fisk. Li’Fran has been on the faculty at Fisk University for 29 years.
“My first mentor, Newton Holiday, encouraged me during art classes at Pearl High School,” she said. “It was due to him that I pursued a career in art.”

Aaron Douglas wrote a book in which he discusses how talented he thinks Li’Fran Fort was, stating she was one of his best students. The Aaron Douglas Gallery is one of the unique aspects of Fisk on display. Many public school students have gone on field trips to see this magnificent display of art.

Carol Creswell-Betsch is a 1955 graduate of Fisk University. She received her Master’s degree in ‘library science’ from Peabody College and her Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her parents were also graduates of Fisk.

Her father was the Controller at one time and her mother had been the Curator at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery. Carol remembers her time at Fisk when there was integrated housing for the faculty. Everyone was engaged in educational discourse, and race was not a major factor.
“I hope that Fisk can continue to meet the challenges of the day,” said Carol. She noted that the campus has evolved significantly through music and art. A new science center has been built on the campus to continue its historic legacy of academic excellence.

Lisa Otey Spencer, daughter of Ron Otey, was in attendance on this Fisk Sunday, and shared in the service at the request of her cousin, Rev. Otey by reading ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’ by Langston Hughes. She also said that Louis Gregory, a member of the Baha’i faith, attended Fisk and participated in the Sit-In. He has written a book, entitled, Pupil of the Eye.

Fisk University is a member of the HBCU family. Fisk and all HBCU schools provide a need for students in the Black community. The Tom Joyner Show, which is broadcast in many cities, supports the HBCU legacy by recognizing and promoting them. Joyner awards scholarships to deserving students from his foundation and focuses on an HBCU school each month. ‘A Mind is a Terrible to Waste!’