Each February, Memphis Theological Seminary (MTS) hosts a community event to celebrate the life and witness of the late Dr. Henry Logan Starks, the first African-American professor at MTS. Known as the Henry Logan Starks Scholarship Dinner, the event pays homage to Dr. Starks’ legacy as a theologian, community leader and activist, and benefits the scholarship endowment in his name. Through the generous support of Dinner guests and benefactors, the Starks Endowment Fund generates scholarship dollars for African-American students who are following the path of Dr. Starks – attaining a theological education.
A highlight of the Dinner is the recognition of individuals who have contributed locally and globally in a way that is consistent with Dr. Starks’ legacy. MTS proudly recognizes an African-American alumnus/na with the Outstanding African-American Alumni Award. Award recipients demonstrate a thirst for theological education, a passion for ministry, and a commitment to community service. The prestigious Henry Logan Starks Distinguished Service Award is presented to a leader whose extraordinary service has had a major impact in the community and whose life exemplifies the vibrant leadership, courage, and integrity exhibited by Dr. Starks. The President’s Humanitarian Award salutes an individual who embodies the spirit of Memphis Theological Seminary, which is ecumenical and diverse. The recipient demonstrates a gift for exceeding boundaries through a pursuit of excellence in their chosen life path, a demonstration of faith, compassion, peace, and justice to all humankind.
Through this annual event, MTS and the broader community can celebrate the achievements of award recipients and the legacy of Dr. Starks, and help build opportunities for the next generation of religious leaders in Memphis and the Mid-South.
The Reverend Dr. Henry Logan Starks, The Gentle Giant
In 1964, Memphis Theological Seminary moved to Memphis from McKenzie, Tennessee at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Henry Logan Starks was one of six African-American students to enroll in MTS after its move to Memphis. In welcoming the six students, MTS became one of the first predominantly white institutions in Memphis to admit African-Americans. This was the beginning of a diverse MTS community that continues to flourish and grow.
Dr. Starks was a community activist. He was a key leader of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and a force behind the Black Monday school boycotts, which consolidated the support of Memphis students and teachers for sanitation workers. Though tenacious in his passion for the rights and welfare of all people, Starks was dubbed by the community as the “Gentle Giant” because of the quiet dignity and resolute leadership he maintained even under the most tumultuous circumstances.
After graduating from MTS, he became the first African-American member of the MTS faculty while continuing to serve as Pastor of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church. He died on July 4, 1985. A well-respected leader and beloved pastor and faculty member, he left a lasting legacy in Memphis and for MTS. The local newspapers described Starks, who coined the phrase “You are somebody,” as “…in the elite class with Dr. [Martin Luther] King, A. Phillip Randolph and Medgar Evers.”