Samford University has renamed its minority student scholarship for the late John T. Porter, who served as pastor of Birmingham’s historic Sixth Avenue Baptist Church for nearly 40 years. The Rev. John T. Porter Minority Scholarship is the new name.
Porter served as a Samford trustee from 1991 until his death in 2006, the first African-American selected as a trustee. Porter also was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree in 2001.
The scholarship announcement was made Feb. 26 at a luncheon for Porter’s family, members of his church and representatives of the Samford faculty diversity committee. Porter’s widow, Dorothy, noted that the family had a long connection with Samford. A grandson participated in the university’s preparatory music program for children even before Porter became a trustee.
“We had so many wonderful experiences with Samford,” Mrs. Porter said, “and I thank the university for initiating and carrying forward with this project. My heart is overflowing with thanksgiving, knowing that [Porter’s] legacy and his work with students will be carried forward through this scholarship.”
The scholarship fund was begun in 2003 through the efforts of then Samford undergraduate student Jewel Littleton. Initial efforts raised about $7,000, and the first scholarships were awarded about three years ago. The fund has now grown to more than $21,000.
Littleton approached Samford’s then-president Thomas E. Corts about starting a scholarship for minority students in any major field of study. She had received a similar scholarship that was designated specifically for education majors.
“I wanted to make it possible for any minority student who might not otherwise be able to attend Samford to do so,” Littleton said. “I would walk the campus every day and thank God for the chance to attend Samford. I want others to be able to do the same thing.”
The 2009-10 recipients are Lisa Daniels, a senior accounting major from Birmingham, and Alberto Coutoumanos, a sophomore undeclared major from Irondale, Ala. Both were present for the announcement.
Honoring Porter was an initiative from the diversity committee. Former committee chair Joe Scrivner, assistant professor of religion, is a member of Sixth Avenue Church and was a friend of Porter’s.
“We wanted to name the scholarship after a person who would bring more recognition, prestige and awareness to the cause, not only to the African-American community but to the Birmingham community at large,” Scrivner said. “Our goal is to enhance diversity, not just racial and ethnic, but diversity of ideas at Samford. Who better to honor with that than Dr. Porter.”
Porter was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. His church often hosted mass meetings of activists, and Porter led protest marches in Birmingham. He is immortalized, along with other leaders, in a sculpture in Birmingham’s Kelly-Ingram Park.
“To be a Christian in the American South means grappling with a history of racism, the lingering effects of segregation and a lot of injustice,” Scrivner said in an interview with Samford’s student newspaper, The Crimson. “So, if we’re going to be a Christian institution in Birmingham, Ala., a place that used to be called ‘Bombingham,’ it is morally imperative that we are serious about racial diversity.”
With additional reporting by Blake Tommey, The Samford Crimson.