By Richard Pryor III
On December 20, 2016, the Sewanee community mourned the passing of beloved Professor Houston Bryan Roberson of the History Department. Roberson, who specialized in religious history, African American history, and the Civil Rights Movement, began his Sewanee career in 1997 after teaching at Chapel Hill High School. He earned his B.A, from Mars Hill College, his M.A. from Wake Forest University, and his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina.
Roberson had two books to his name, Fighting the Good Fight; The Story of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church 1865-1977, published in 2005, and Witness: Two Hundred Years of Faith and Practice at the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, New York. The latter was published in 2013 alongside Dr. Genna McNeil from the University of North Carolina, Dr. Quinton Dixie of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Worth, and Dr. Kevin McGruder of Antioch College.
Roberson was an integral part of the university community. Dr. Woody Register (C’80), Chair of the Department of History, called Roberson an “invaluable colleague, whose friendship and leadership contributed enormously to our department’s goals and the high aspirations of the University,” in a letter posted on the History Department Facebook page. Roberson’s colleague, Dr. Julie Berebitsky, said “We started the same day here and we were close friends. He wanted to give African American students on campus the support to begin to talk about race. He was just this kind and generous man.” At the recent History Department’s Brown Bag Luncheon, many the professors and students that spoke in remembrance of Dr. Roberson mentioned his kindness and generosity.
Alumni Davante Jennings (C’16) said, “Dr. Roberson was the one we could talk to without having to explain a thing. He just got it. He always understood without further questioning and because of that, I felt value in myself and capable in the work I was doing.” Jonathan Brown (C’18), an American Studies major, said “Professor Roberson was honestly one of my favorite people here at Sewanee. He has a quiet but strong demeanor about him that was always felt whenever he walked in the room. He taught me to take a step back and listen to what a person was saying and try to connect to it. He taught me to listen instead of listening just to talk. I can honestly sit and recollect of numerous time that Roberson has impacted my life but this is just one of them.” Curtis Johnson (C’14), an Assistant Director of Admission here at Sewanee, said “I had classes with him all four years, and I think I could have minored in American Studies thanks to him. He was the only professor of color here at the time. His diligent study of African American History was important, and he was an important resource for many of the students of color over his tenure.”