A Closer Look: Buell Gordon Gallagher, Part 2

The previous post discusses Buell Gordon Gallagher‘s early career and why he,  a white person, was president of the historically black Talledega College from 1933 to 1943. When Gallagher’s term as president of Talladega College ended, he went to the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, where he was a professor of Christian ethics. He arrived in January 1944.

Perhaps Reverend Gallagher was acting on W.E.B. DuBois’ advice from 1931 — that the best inter-racial work was inter-racial churches. Soon after his arrival in California, Gallagher became co-pastor of the South Berkeley Community Church. The church had formerly been the Park Congregational Church, closing in 1942 due to “white flight,” but reopening in 1943 with the specific intent of being inter-racial. This article says that South Berkeley Community Church was the first intentional integrated church in the Bay area. Reverend Roy C. Nichols, a new graduate of the Pacific School of Religion, was the co-pastor, and he later (1968) became the first African-American bishop in the United Methodist Church. Read more about the history of South Berkeley Community Church here:


Mr. Gallagher Goes To Washington

Gallagher ran on the Democratic and Independent Progressive tickets in the 1948 election to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the 7th District (Oakland). He lost to Republican John J. Allen, Jr. (74,318 votes to Allen’s 78,534 votes).

I did not find anything about Rev. Gallagher’s reasons for running or his platform, but Harry Truman mentions him in a September 22, 1948 campaign speech that Truman gave in Oakland. Truman was the incumbent president who stepped up to take the place of Franklin D. Roosevelt when he died in 1945. In the 1948 presidential election, California was one of the three key states that Truman had to win (the other two being Illinois and Ohio).

It was a tough battle for Truman. His Republican opponent Thomas E. Dewey was expected to win, and he had named California governor Earl Warren (later a chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) as his vice-presidential running mate. Truman had already done a whistlestop tour in May. In September he was back. Here’s an excerpt of Truman’s speech:

“An election will be held in this Nation on November 2d, and the result of that election can mean everything to the people of California, and all the country. …You people here have already been hurt by the failure of the Republican 80th Congress to do anything to control high prices. You have already been hurt by the failure of this same Republican Congress to take suitable action to meet the housing shortage and the crisis in education.

You’ve got a good man right here in Buell Gallagher. And if you prefer to keep that backward fellow in there, instead of electing a good man like this, you ought to get what you deserve.”

This photo is from the “History of Racial Injustice” website, illustrating the fact that in July 1948, President Truman ordered the integration of U.S. Armed Forces. Truman’s unexpected win of the presidency for a second term, perhaps due to black voter support, helped to turn Rev. Gallagher’s loss around — he came to Washington anyway in 1950, as a consultant in the Office of Education, where he stayed for two years until Gallagher was named president of City College of New York, starting in September 1952.

Where do you stand on Communism, Mr. Gallagher?

Throughout the 20th century there has been a perception in the United States that civil rights activists were leftists and therefore potentially allied with Communists. Although Buell Gallagher was never an active activist, as a university president he had to make decisions that brought his political leanings into question. More about this in Part 3.

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