The Lane Rebels at Oberlin
Shortly after its founding in 1829, Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio experienced a campus-wide controversy surrounding issues of free speech. In 1834 debates emerged about Christian morality in relation to the abolition movement. Some students argued on behalf of the abolition movement and against the American Colonization Society’s mission to send free African Americans to Africa. The seminary’s geographic location near the border of the slave state of Kentucky only made the debates more heated. The trustees hoped to silence these debates and avoid public scrutiny by implementing policy to halt abolitionist discussion. After the faculty accepted these measures, approximately forty students decided to leave the seminary. At this time Lyman Beecher, father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, was President of Lane Seminary.
John Shipherd, co-founder of the college and colony in Oberlin, persuaded thirty-two of the Lane students, known as the Lane Rebels, to come to Oberlin in 1835. The Lane Rebels sought a place where they would have their right to free speech and could continue the fight against slavery. They requested that former Lane Trustee Asa Mahan, who had supported their cause, become president of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute (name changed to Oberlin College in 1850). John Morgan, dismissed from the Lane Seminary faculty for his support of the Rebels, also came to Oberlin and joined the faculty. The proposal to enroll students “irrespective of color” at Oberlin was presented to the trustees, and the resolution was narrowly passed by a 5-4 vote.
The acceptance of the Lane Rebels and the vote to enroll students “irrespective of color” helped to ignite the abolitionist movement in Oberlin and create a safe place or environment where individuals would take up causes for the betterment of humankind.