Affirming the Affirmative: Lois Moreland '55
When Lois Baldwin Moreland ’55 first taught in Atlanta, it wasn’t unusual for some of her Spelman College students to find themselves behind bars. But that didn’t deter either the students—who were jailed during the early 1960s for their participation in sit-in demonstrations—or Moreland, herself a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement. The former Southeast Regional Youth Field Secretary for the N.A.A.C.P. simply waited until the students were back on campus, and then taught them the material they missed. The law stopped them only temporarily, Moreland recalls; in the long run, it hadn’t the power to derail their college educations.
Ever since her own days as a student, Moreland—who became one of SLC’s first black Trustee in 1975—has been a trailblazer, quietly but firmly pushing out boundaries for herself and others of color. In 1959, when she came to Spelman, the 1954 Brown decision and the 1957 Voting Rights Act had just become public policy, and the time was ripe for a political activist/scholar like herself. Her work with the N.A.A.C.P. had brought her into contact with many of the leading black figures—such as former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall—who were then shaping the nation’s new laws.
When Moreland earned her Ph.D. in political science from American University in 1968, she became only the fifth African-American woman to receive a doctorate in that field. She later became founding director of the International Affairs Center at Spelman, as well as the founding chair of that college’s Political Science Department.
With the publication of her 1970 book, White Racism and the Law, which has been used in colleges and law schools, Moreland became one of the first to contend that government inaction on racism, in fact, constituted a form of action. “The state bears the responsibility to correct instances of racism,” she says. “That obligation became affirmative action.” Her book’s thesis became the precursor to current policy.
But she is troubled these days, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to revisit the questions of whether and how public colleges and universities may consider race in their admissions decisions. Moreland says: “It’s still necessary for schools to retain standards for diversity, because we’ve not yet reached the point where there is true equity. The time is not right yet to interfere with those standards.”
Moreland has also accepted public responsibilities. She was, among other things: a member of the Georgia Commission on the Status of Women; special staff aide to President Jimmy Carter at the Democratic National Convention; a member of the Georgia Board of Offender Rehabilitation; commissioner of the Georgia Human Relations Commission; sometimes the only black—and/or only female—member during eight years on advisory councils for National Institutes of Health; and first treasurer of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists.
The first faculty member of Spelman College to receive the title of faculty emerita upon her retirement (after more than 30 years there), she has turned her attention to bioethics and the question of when life begins. In a review of the 1992 anthology Issues in Reproductive Technology I, Moreland—a Sunday school teacher and deaconess at Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta—asks why scientists refer to the unborn as “it” and “zygote” and “pre-zygote,” instead of using the term “baby.” She considers such clinical words “political acts which impact public policy” on major issues like abortion and stem cell research.
“The terms are changed to gain public acceptance or avoid concern about the moral status of experiments that are being done,” she contends. “The name changes are euphemisms that obscure the real debate.”
Moreland’s work and writing these days focus on religion and the role Christ plays in people’s lives. “Life has given me everything I’ve wanted,” she says, “a fine marriage, motherhood, acceptance in my profession.” Still, she recalls, she found herself at times, especially as a young adult, looking for something else but not quite understanding what that was. “I learned in time that it is Christ who gives me a sense of peace and joy,” she says. “And to bring more humanity to human kind, you can’t want for more than that.”