40 The History of Wake Forest
During the annual meeting in November, however, delegates from the Baptist
churches attending the meeting voted down the recommendation by a narrow mar-
gin. Soon afterward, Wake Forest trustees held a special meeting and took what might
best be described as a radical but necessary action. They voted on December 6 to
elect their successors without seeking approval from the Baptist State Convention
of North Carolina. Furthermore, they voted to increase the number of trustees from
thirty-six to forty and stated, “Trustees will elect their successors.” J. Robert Philpott
of Lexington chaired the trustee committee that proposed the new arrangement. It
sent shockwaves through the Baptist and educational worlds of North Carolina and
Baptist institutions of higher learning elsewhere.
The letters announcing the trustees’ decision were signed by Weston P. Hatfield
(’41), the Board’s retiring chair, and Joseph Branch (’38), the new chair, who was
also Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina. The letters were sent by
couriers to Convention officials immediately following the early December trustee
meeting.
Soon afterward, Hearn explained the action to several correspondents. He wrote
to the Reverend Lamar J. Brooks of the Winter Park Baptist Church in Wilming-
ton, North Carolina, on December 16: “I assume you are aware that the Convention
played little or no role in the election of Wake Forest trustees until 1927. We certainly
were a Baptist institution for all those years when we had a distinction between gov-
ernance and our services to the Baptists. We have, therefore, a history upon which to
establish this new covenant.” However, in a letter to Claude A. McNeill Jr. on Decem-
ber 18, the president lamented: “We were . . . disappointed that the proposals to revise
the covenant failed. That left Wake Forest in a procedural dilemma with respect to the
critical matter of the election of trustees. It distresses me that our action is described
as ‘unilateral.’” On December 19, to William F. Bondurant, Executive Director of the
Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Hearn wrote: “No doubt the recent decision by
the Board of Trustees to be a fully self-perpetuating Board will have a great impact on
the future of Wake Forest.”
In a letter on January 2, 1986, to Reverend Carl R. Elledge of Pleasant Grove
Baptist Church, Ronda, North Carolina, President Hearn discussed the tension between
Wake Forest and the Convention: “What constitutes our religious commitment and our
fidelity to our Baptist heritage is what we do on the campus and in programs and ser-
vices we render.” He wrote
Mr. Rex N. Gribble of
the Charlotte Machine
Company on February
5: “The Baptist State
Convention with which
Wake Forest has dealt for
so long is no more. It is
now a divided and divi-
sive forum involved in an
essentially political strug-
gle. That constitutes our
basic problem. We must
Weston Hatfield
Joseph Branch
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