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From his column Past to Present

A Man of Books and of the People

past-to-present-05-14-1Fred Floyd’s deep and abiding convictions on politics and religion were forged by his humble origins in Donalsonville, Georgia, where sawmill and turpentine industries thrived, and peanut and cotton seed oils were processed.

W. Fred Floyd, born Dec. 2, 1900, was one of nine children. His parents, Josh and Alice Floyd, were charter members of the Holiness Church, an independent church founded in 1902 by businessman T. J. Shingler and his wife, Leona, a lay preacher. The Holiness Church of Donalsonville followed its own Manual until uniting with the Holiness Church of Christ in 1906. With this accession, the Holiness Church of Christ stretched across the South from Georgia to New Mexico. Brother Shingler attended the First General Assembly in Chicago and supported the North-South union of holiness churches at Pilot Point, Texas, in 1908.

Shingler Academy was founded as a local holiness school. The Floyd children attended, and there young Fred met such luminaries of Nazarene education as E. P. Ellyson and A. K. Bracken, who both taught in Donalsonville before its school merged with Trevecca Nazarene College. Encouraged by them, he attended Pasadena College, earning his A.B. degree in 1924; Mercer University, where he received the B.S.E. in English in 1927; Vanderbilt University, where he received the M.A. degree in history in 1930 and the Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1932.[1]

At different times, Floyd taught and served as a principal in Georgia public schools. He also taught at Trevecca while attending Vanderbilt. In 1927, he married Lillian Harden, another Georgia school teacher. Their marriage produced two children.

But teaching was not Fred Floyd’s only professional love. He was ordained on the Georgia District in 1927 by Hiram F. Reynolds. There he served as a pastor and district leader, holding the offices of district secretary, treasurer, and N.Y.P.S. president.

A. K. Bracken, serving his second term as president of Bethany-Peniel College, summoned Floyd to the college’s faculty in 1932. From then on, Professor Floyd cleaved to the community of Bethany, Oklahoma, and its college. He witnessed the school evolve into Bethany Nazarene College and then Southern Nazarene University. Over time, many came to believe that Professor Floyd embodied the highest aspirations of the city and college.

In ensuing years, Floyd headed the history department but also taught courses in religion, sociology, and political science. Simultaneously, he worked toward his Ph.D. degree at the University of Oklahoma, graduating in 1950. His doctoral committee included Carl Coke Rister, E. E. Dale, and Alfred B. Sears—noteworthy historians of the American West. Their interests, and Floyd’s abiding concern for America’s ordinary people, were evident in his choice of a dissertation topic, “A History of the Dust Bowl,” which ran to 311 pages.

He was a real force within his adopted state’s historical community, serving as president of the Oklahoma City Civil War Roundtable (of which he was a co-founder) and two terms as president of the Oklahoma Association of College History Professors. He chaired the Religious Observance committee of the state’s Civil War Centennial Commission and organized the Bethany Historical Society and the Bethany Museum.

At the college, he founded the Bethany-Peniel Historical Society to encourage historical interests and an associated publication, The B-P C Historian, a vehicle to publish student research. Among its young writers were a future United States Senator and a future leading scholar of the Holiness movement.[2]

In the community, Floyd helped organize the Bethany Chamber of Commerce, which initially met in his living room. Later he served on the Bethany City Council and helped to rewrite the city charter.

In the church, he served for 31 years as district secretary for the Western and Northwestern Oklahoma Districts. His name appears on several hundred ordination credentials. He also wrote for the wider church, supplying articles to The Preacher’s Magazine and Herald of Holiness.

A staunch New Deal Democrat, Floyd gave testimony to his convictions in his retirement speech, noting how occupational safety was not a part of the lumber industry during the years that he grew up around it, when men could fall into a rip saw and lose their limbs, if not their lives. He celebrated the role of the federal government in bringing electricity to the Tennessee Valley. His progressive impulses were intact in his old age, for he embraced the environmental movement, with its emphasis on clean air and water, and made a point of working to maintain the beauty of his own neighborhood.[3] Floyd’s New Deal proclivities were shared by longtime colleague Dr. James Garner, who headed the political science department. Garner’s uncle had served as Franklin Roosevelt’s vice-president.

Floyd insisted that students taking courses in 19th and 20th century history read at least one book by Walter Rauschenbusch, a leading theologian of the social gospel. Floyd believed that the deep piety engendered by revivalism should not accompany ignorance of social evils.[4]

A former student notes that Floyd “had a genuine interest” in students and always made time to pray or talk with them. When a student pastor needed an ordained elder to provide the Lord’s Supper to his flock, Floyd readily agreed to get up early one Sunday morning and ride with him on the bus to Wynnewood, Oklahoma. There he administered the sacrament to the people. He always tried to encourage the young pastors. [5]

He retired in 1971 but remained a fixture in the city and college until his death in 1989. The school he loved has memorialized him in two ways: the university archives are named in his honor, and Nazarene sculptor Scott Stearman created a statue of Professor Floyd that is located near the school’s alumni building.

Stan Ingersol is a Church historian and manager of the Nazarene Archives.

[1] Anna Belle Laughbaum, “Fred Floyd,” Blue and Gold, vol. 5, no. 3 (Special Issue, 1958). Fred Floyd Collection, Nazarene Archives.

[2] The future senator was Gary Hart of Colorado. The future historian, Charles Edwin Jones, published the first scholarly history of the Holiness Movement and became the leading bibliographer of both the Holiness Movement and Pentecostalism.

[3] Fred Floyd, “My Swan Song.” In the Fred Floyd Collection.

[4] The writer was asked by Professor Floyd to read either Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) or Christianizing the Social Order (1912). The course was “The Sociology of Social Problems.”

[5] Email from Carl Ingersol to the writer, March 7, 2014.

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