Famed N.C. Baptist minister establishes WFU Divinity School scholarship
August 1, 2006
Robert Seymour, pastor emeritus of Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill and a legendary religious figure in North Carolina, and his wife, Pearl, have established the Pearl and Robert Seymour Scholarship Fund to provide financial support for graduate students in the Wake Forest University Divinity School.
Hailed as a champion of social justice, Seymour became Binkley Memorial’s first pastor in 1959. Seymour was known for his staunch support of racial integration during the 1960s and has been lauded for his prolific involvement in Baptist life, both in North Carolina and in the world.
He said he and his wife chose to support the Wake Forest Divinity School because of its commitment to a wide range of ministerial training and the school’s demonstrated sensitivity to larger cultural and church-wide trends.
“At a time when many people are interested in spirituality but are not affiliated with a church congregation, it is imperative that theological education be aware of the trends in secular culture to which it articulates our faith,” Seymour said.
Seymour, a native of Greenwood, S.C., earned his undergraduate degree from Duke University. He attended Yale Divinity School as a Navy chaplaincy candidate, earning a Master of Divinity degree in 1948. He was awarded a doctorate from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1955.
After serving in ministerial positions at Mars Hill Baptist Church in Mars Hill, Warrenton Baptist Church in Warrenton, and Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, Seymour became the founding pastor of Binkley Memorial. He is also well known for two of his books, “Whites Only: A Pastor’s Retrospective on Life in the New South” and “Aging Without Apology.”
Pearl Seymour, who is originally from LaFollette, Tenn., is an accomplished organist and taught organ at Mars Hill College. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Mills College in California. In addition to serving as the church organist at Binkley Memorial, she gave piano lessons to several generations of Chapel Hill children. She continues to serve as a substitute organist, and frequently performs at a senior center and adult day care center.
Seymour said that although the charter members of Binkley Memorial were only about 40 in number, the group sought to establish a multicultural congregation with a strong spirit of ecumenism. His early insistence on racial integration and unwillingness to require immersion baptism of church members branded him as uncooperative in many Southern Baptist circles, leading Binkley Memorial to align with the American Baptist Convention.
“Most Baptists seem to have forgotten what it means to be Baptist these days,” Seymour said. “It is important to offer support for seminaries like Wake Forest. I am impressed by the fact that the Wake Forest Divinity School not only upholds the best of our Baptist faith and traditions, but also sees itself as an ecumenical seminary.”
Seymour, a regular columnist for The Chapel Hill News, was the first president of the Inter-Faith Council in Chapel Hill, a social service organization comprised of area churches and synagogues. He and his wife live in Chapel Hill and have two children, Frances and Robert.
Bill Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School, said it is fitting that a visionary leader like Seymour would create a scholarship at the school.
"Doctor Seymour remains a prophetic voice among Baptists in the South,” Leonard said. “We are honored that he and Pearl would fund a scholarship that will enable generations to pursue the prophetic and caring ministry that he has long demonstrated.”