Category: Abilene connections

The White Guy in the Black History Play

Byron looked at me intently, and his were not the only eyes on me. The entire room was watching, waiting for what was going to come next.


My wife, Amanda, sat in a nearby chair. Byron and two students helping direct the action stood at the front of the classroom, acting as our audience. About ten students, most of whom I had just met, were sitting or kneeling on the floor. That made sense because they were acting as if they were picking cotton on a Southern plantation. One stood up and approached me, and recited her line.


“May I have some water?”


Her line had momentarily drawn the attention off of the only White male in the room. But the respite was short lived. Byron looked back and me and said in a quiet but stern voice, “You know what your line is, Drew.”


I bowed my head to collect myself, then bellowed a word I had never spoken before as I pushed her to the ground. The word started with the letter N.


Let me give you a little background. A few weeks ago, I was attending the Black Students Association (BSA) chapel on campus. I’ve been a regular there most Thursdays for more than two years, save for the times I visit the Hispanos Unidos chapel. A BSA leader announced that they were bringing back an important part of ACU tradition by performing a Black History Production, and they needed volunteers. I signed up immediately, and convinced Amanda to come to the try-outs.


As soon as I got the lines I was supposed to read for the audition, I felt apprehension. The piece I was to read was clearly from the perspective of a Black student. I practiced it a pretty good deal, but worried how it would come across, especially the parts that particularly pertained to the character having difficulties with White students.


The audition came and went, and it was fairly uneventful. I read decently, but definitely did not excel. The panel listening to me tried their best to get me to add anger into my reading, but they soon came to realize the vocally emoting my anger just isn’t a strength of mine. Eventually, they were able to coax it out by making me transport myself into the character of a Roman soldier from the crucifixion, a part I have played many times. My audition was satisfactory, and the next week, I was part of the BHP.


We had a meeting with the entire cast to talk through the meaning of the production and read through the script. Twenty-five or so people showed up, and Amanda and I were two of three White people. As the only White male, I had a sneaking suspicion that my part would not be a fun or happy one.


I was right.


And so I found myself, a self-proclaimed “racial reconciler,” spewing a venomous word stained with the hatred and derision of hundreds of years of subjugation, the very opposite of what I stand for. It felt so very wrong. My prayer is that I continue to feel that wrong every time I have to say it. Because I do believe in the cause of racial reconciliation, and believe that a key part of it is education. The BHP is a powerful tool to teach the community about itself, because as Byron said the day he announced in chapel, Black History is not just about Black people. Our lives are woven together more closely than we can imagine. And for every story of discrimination, bigotry, and hatred that makes us pray, “Lord, may this evil pass from the world forever,” there is another story of overcoming through determination, courage, and love.


These stories belong to us all. On March 3rd and 4th, our cast will put on a production to remind us all of that truth.


St. Ann Celebration!

It has been a year now since we were called to follow God as a community to the College Heights area of Abilene. We want to invite you to join us for a day of prayer and celebration, thanking God for the guidance of the past year, and asking that God lead us and all of Abilene closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.

From 12 AM Saturday morning (midnight) until 12 AM Sunday morning (midnight), we want you to join us in the courtyard at what was once St. Ann hospital for 24 hours of prayer and peace. The times on the schedule below are intended to be larger group fellowship times, so feel welcome to join for meals and especially for the celebration time at 11 PM. And while some of you may not be able to join us physically, your prayers would still be appreciated as we celebrate what God has done and continues to do. We want the entire day to be filled with prayer…if you would like to join us for an hour, two hours, or even longer at any point during the day or night, please call Rosten at 361.652.7792 or John at 713.305.5876, let us know in the comments below, or just show up at 1350 Cypress. That address is where you will find the parking lot, and we will be tucked into the small courtyard behind the parking lot. We look forward to seeing you there!

12:00 AM – Opening prayer
7:30 AM – Breakfast (provided by Lynn and Steve Holt)
6:30 PM – Dinner (provided by Janet and Doug Mendenhall)
11:00 PM – Time of Celebration, Song, Story, and Communion

As another ethnographic assignment, Josh and I went to interview Virginia Connally, the first female doctor in Abilene, who worked at St. Ann for most of her career. Josh had been connected up with Virginia as if by a miracle in the first few days after our discovery of the hospital building. You’ll hear more about that in our complete narrative, hopefully sometime soon!

Our goal in this interview was to get a sense of Virginia’s life story, especially as it related to her experience as a woman doctor and her time at St. Ann. Unfortunately, the audio recording we made of the interview was lost, so Josh and I sat down together as soon as we could to try to reconstruct the interview. The questions and answers recorded below give a general sense of how it went.


When and where were you born?

  • December 4, 1912 in Temple, Texas

Tell us about your family.

  • 2 younger sisters
  • an older brother who died from pneumonia when he was 3 (Virginia was 1)

How did you end up in Abilene?

  • went to Temple Junior College in 1929
  • moved to Abilene when she was 18 (in 1930) to attend Hardin Simmons University
  • graduated from HSU in 1933
  • married during her time at HSU

Why did you decide to become a doctor, and how did you go about doing that?

  • her uncle (a lawyer) continually stressed the importance of higher education for all the kids in her family, encouraging them (and it seems, expecting them) to pursue degrees that would allow for careers in law, medicine, etc.; this inspired her
  • went to med school at LSU from 1933-1937
  • finished residency at Charity Hospital in New Orleans in 1940

How did you end up back in Abilene, working at St. Ann?

  • moved back to Abilene with her husband
  • when WWII rolled around, many of the male doctors were called to serve, and this opened up positions for doctors locally

Tell us about life at St. Ann.

  • nearly all of the doctors were welcoming to her
  • she only recounted one incident in which a doctor was rude towards her, and it might have been because of his prior relationship with the patient in question
  • the attitudes of the male doctors did not change noticeably when the men came back from the war; they were all still courteous
  • the sisters at St. Ann were very kind and made life enjoyable (as well as making amazing pecan brittle)

Is there any memory in particular that stands out to you from your time at St. Ann?

  • on Christmas day during WWII (1943 or 1944), she spent the entire day with a small boy who was a patient of hers, along with his mother; the child was very sick and was dying because there were no antibiotics back then to give to him

What was the neighborhood around St. Ann like back then?

  • Hendrick [another hospital just a few blocks away] was already there
  • she didn’t really spend much of any time in the neighborhood itself and can’t recall what it was like
  • she did do a few house calls (though not very often)
    • one time, when she arrived at the house, the family of the patient turned her away when they realized that it was a woman doctor who had come; she left, thinking that they could fend for themselves if they really were that unwilling to let her help
    • another time, she drove to the other side of town for a house call; when she arrived, the front door was open, but the house was dark and no one responded to her; she left without going in, and to this day, she still wonders what was going on

As a Baptist yourself, what was your relationship to the Catholic nuns at the hospital like? Was there any tension, or did the religious differences not come into play at all?

  • the relationship was always good
  • she was raised in a Catholic school herself, so she was familiar with the differences in practice and belief
  • overall, it’s just very important to listen to each other (which led us into long tangents about listening to people, about prayer, about religious/political differences and similarities overall…)

So, you’ve heard some of our story about how we came across St. Ann and what we think we’d like to do there. What do you think about this dream?

  • she affirmed us as individuals and as a group specifically
  • she affirmed our dream in a more general manner
  • she expressed general niceties to show her support
  • when we mentioned it, she agreed that she’d like to come see St. Ann again with us sometime