The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Kershaw (Rev. Alvin L.) Papers
Collection Number: M354
Dates: ca. 1955 - 1977
Volume: .25 cubic foot
Restrictions: Available for research use by the serious student and scholar.
Rev. Alvin L. Kershaw was rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Oxford, Ohio, when in October 1955, he was invited to participate in Religious Emphasis Week at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) at Oxford, Mississippi, in February 1956. He was slated to address Ole Miss students on the subject of jazz, an area in which he was considered something of an expert. In the meantime, Rev. Kershaw became a contestant on the television quiz show, "The $64,000 Question", where his expertise in the field of jazz helped him to win $32,000. In an interview after the program, he alluded to the possibility of donating a portion of his winnings to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to aid in the battle against segregation. When word of this reached Mississippi, Rev. Kershaw became the target of a firestorm of criticism, which eventually led to cancellation of his scheduled visit to Ole Miss.
Alvin Louis "Al" Kershaw was born October 14, 1919 in Louisville, Kentucky, the only son of Isaac Holt Kershaw and Elizabeth Sauter Kershaw. He had one sister, Alles Kershaw Daniel. His early education was accomplished at I. N. Bloom Elementary School, Highland Junior High School and Louisville Male High School. He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Louisville, and attended the Seminary of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee (B Div.). In addition, he did graduate work at the University of Chicago and at Harvard University.
On January 29, 1944, Rev. Kershaw was married to Doris Elnora Bridges, and they became the parents of three children -- John, Stephen, and Ellen. During his career, Rev. Kershaw served as rector of Christ Church Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky (1944 - 1947); Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Oxford, Ohio (1947 - 1956); All Saints Episcopal Church in Peterborough, New Hampshire (1956 - 1963); and Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Boston, Massachusetts (1963 - 1989).
Working closely with Mr. Craig Smith, talented musician and professionally dedicated Director of Music at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Boston, Rev. Kershaw conceived of and carried out the inclusion of a complete Johann Sebastian Bach cantata into the weekly worship services. This practice, begun in 1970, continues to this day, enriching the worship and music scene in Boston.
Rev. Kershaw participated regularly in religious emphasis programs at colleges and universities, and wrote prolifically on the topics of religion, jazz, and social issues. He also wrote and participated in the award-winning CBS-TV series, "Look Up and Live", in the 1950s. He was selected Distinguished Alumnus, University of Louisville in 1955, and served as Chaplain to the George Lewis New Orleans Jazz Band in the 1950s. He was also awarded lifelong honorary membership in the Musicians Union. Following his retirement in 1989, Rev. Kershaw returned to Louisville, Kentucky, where he was active in the Louisville Bach Society and served on its Board of Directors.
Rev. Kershaw died on November 29, 2001, and is interred in Calvary Episcopal Church Graveyard in Louisville. He is survived by his wife, Doris, of Louisville, Kentucky; two sons -- John Kershaw, of San Diego, California and Stephen Kershaw, of New Hampshire - and a daughter, Ellen Kershaw, of Louisville, Kentucky.
This collection consists of correspondence, newspaper articles and other items that document events surrounding Rev. Alvin L. Kershaw's scheduled appearance at The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) during Religious Emphasis Week in February 1956, and subsequent cancellation of the week's activities due to Rev. Kershaw's sympathetic stance regarding African American citizens. Materials in the collection are divided into two series: "Correspondence" and "Articles."
Series I (Correspondence) contains letters to, from, and about Rev. Kershaw, which provide a broad overview of the situation, as well as reflections of the mindset that opposed equal rights for African American citizens. Some of the letters directed to Rev. Kershaw are openly hostile; a few are supportive; and others were generated by individuals associated with Ole Miss and Religious Emphasis Week activities. Of particular note in this series are Ole Miss Chancellor J. D. Williams' letter withdrawing Rev. Kershaw's invitation to visit; letters from Ole Miss Director of Religious Life, Will D. Campbell; and Rev. Kershaw's open letter to the students of Ole Miss, which was printed in the February 3, 1956 issue of the school newspaper, The Mississippian.
Series II (Articles) encompasses a selection of newspaper clippings that provide a blow-by-blow account of the Ole Miss/Kershaw debacle. Also included are several articles and speeches which address racial issues in general. All of the articles speak to the very real problems that existed between the races in the South. Of special interest is an article written by Will D. Campbell in which the author draws an analogy between an old Uncle Remus tale and the Kershaw dilemma at Ole Miss. The article is titled, "Brer Fox and Brer Tarrypin and the Crisis at Ole Miss."
This collection should be of interest to researchers of racial issues in the South, and it serves as a complement to the Will D. Campbell Papers.
M341 The Papers of Will D. Campbell