Billy Graham Center

Collection 248 - William John Barnett. T3 Transcript.

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This is a complete and accurate transcript of the second oral history interview of William John Barnett (CN 248, #T3) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words which were recorded are omitted. In a some cases, the transcribers could not understand what was said, in which case they put "[unclear]" in the place of the missing word or phrase. If the transcriber was not absolutely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted. Also, grunts, verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers of this transcript should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and even rule than written English.

... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence of the speaker.

.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.

() Word in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.

[] Words in brackets are comments made by the transcriber.

This transcription was completed in September 1991 by Robert Shuster and Kerry Cox.

Collection 248, #T3. Interview of William John Barnett by Robert Shuster, May 27, 1983.

SHUSTER: This is an interview with Dr. William Barnett by Robert Shuster for the Archives of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. This interview took place at 9:30 [a.m.] on May 27th, 1983 in the offices of the Graham Center Archives. [Tape turned off and back on again] Dr. Barnett, when your family came to the U.S. on furlough, in '33 I guess it was, so you could enter school at Columbia [South Carolina], there seems to have been some kind of mix-up or confusion as far as you getting a visa for you to stay for some time in the U.S. Could you tell me a little about that?

BARNETT: Yes, Bob. I, of course, represent one of the early missionary families of Kenya. My own schooling was done at the Rift Valley Academy in Kijabe in Kenya. And I think we mentioned that Rift Valley Academy was started by Mrs. [Josephine] Westervett, one of the earliest of the AIM [Africa Inland Mission] missionaries. The Westervetts were forced to go home, I think, by the time of their first furlough because of ill health of Mrs. Westervett. But she basically was an educator and they never lost their vision of the need for the education of missionary children. And they, though they were confined to the home end in the States, had looked ahead to what was going to happen to missionaries' kids when they got beyond the stage of Rift Valley Academy. Were the parents going to have to come home and stay with them or would it be possible for these missionaries' children to be cared for adequately in the homeland to allow their parents to return to the field? Now in 1927 our family had come home. It was the first time (1925, actually) that we came home on furlough. My folks had not been on furlough for twelve years at that time. They had held in Africa because of the war [World War I] and then following that had been unable to come because of lack of funds. So the first time I ever saw the States was in 1925. And then in 1927 when they returned to the field, at that time the Westervetts had organized and set up what was known as the Westervett Missionary Home. And this was started first in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, next door to John Brown University. And among those first ones who stayed at the home were my three older brothers, Eric, Arthur, and Paul. Then you had a group that came to about eleven to twelve missionary sons. The Home started with...with just boys in it. And all of the people in that home were sons of missionaries of AIM [Africa Inland Mission] who had reached that stage of just concluding their high school education, which they were not able to do at Rift Valley Academy, or ready to go on and start college education. And this was the beginning of the Westervett Home. They stayed at Siloam Springs for a relatively short period of time and then I think it was around '29, somewhere in there, that Columbia Bible College in South Carolina was started by Dr. [Robert] McQuilken and I don't know what the original contact was between the Westervetts and the McQuilkens, but the core was strong enough and the leading of the Lord that the Westervett Home moved to Columbia, South Carolina with that original group of boys. Eventually that home expanded to take in not only boys but the daughters of missionaries as well. And before long it was taking in the children of missionaries from many other missions besides the AIM [Africa Inland Mission] and from other parts of the world. But that was the beginning of what came to play eventually an important part not only in our family but in my own life. Because when I went back with my parents...with my sister in 1927 and we left our three brothers here and we returned to Kenya. And interesting at that mother was Swedish. I'd indicated that before. On our way back to the field that time we stopped in Sweden, which was the first time I had ever been there and actually the last time I've ever been there as well but we spent three months in Sweden, which was the only time I met my grandmother on my mother's side, so I got to know her.

SHUSTER: Then you returned to the States again in '32?

BARNETT: Yes, in 1931.


BARNETT: 1931. We had reached the point where Rift Valley Academy had done just about all it could for our level of education. In fact the school at that time was under the British system. We had a wonderful English lady, Miss Miller-Perrit[?] and all of us kids just loved her, just a wonderful teacher and principal of the school at that time. But the whole school was organized and set up under a British system at that time. And so when we came home in '31, we really didn't know at what level of education I would be in. Nor my sister. My sister actually was placed at home just about through high school. I still had about a year and a half to go to complete a high school education, which I did. And we both entered the Westervett Missionary Home in Columbia, South Carolina at that time and I eventually graduated from the Columbia high school, the city high school there. That was an experience in itself for me, coming from a very...missionary background in a isolated area to be suddenly dumped into a big city high school.

SHUSTER: There seems to have been some problem when you came over with [the] Immigration [Service].

BARNETT: Yes. The problem came up over the fact that my dad was Australian and consequently we were British. We traveled on British passports. But something came up in regard to the papers under which I came into the country. I apparently was put onto the wrong papers somehow by the American representative out there in Kenya. And they (the Immigration people in New York)...the first thing they picked up was the date was wrong on the papers. Somehow or other they had put the date instead of November 1931, it was put down as '32. And they picked that up right away. Then they went on and found some other mistakes and said that I should not have come in under that sort of a set-up at all. And it was a very trying experience because they took me to Ellis Island [immigration center in the harbor of New York City]. And of course my parents and sister went along with me to keep me company there. But it was...I still have vivid memories, even though I was not all that old, of what the Ellis Island was like and the masses of immigrants from Europe that were swarming around these huge rooms and buildings on Ellis Island. The lost immigrants. Many of them were Jewish people who couldn't [?] come into the country. And, boy, you were behind prison walls. You were there just inside a big federal prison.

SHUSTER: How long did that...?

BARNETT: And it had that feeling and I was in there...well, I was in there for the day. But that day seemed like an eternity. I finally was brought before the judge that was there and, man, those fellows were tough, really harsh and.... Obviously they were dealing with all sorts of immigration problems, with people trying to get into the country illegally and so on. And they were rough.

SHUSTER: What kinds of things did they ask you?

BARNETT: Well, I...I have a hard time remembering anything they asked me. All I remembered was that my mother was there and my mother was just absolutely in tears. She was weeping over the harshness with which this man was treating the case and treating me, there. But of course we had been in contact with our home office, which was right there in Brooklyn. And they insisted finally that I would be free to go but only under a five hundred dollar bond, which was an awful lot of money and we did not have the five hundred dollars. But fortunately the mission office came up with five hundred dollars, which allowed me to be released that evening and I was...on the basis that I would...unless something could be worked out, I would have to return to the country of origin...


BARNETT: ...where thing...Kenya...and I would then have to come back in on the correct papers. And that's what the money was for, to insure that I would be able to get out of the country and return later on. So then I went down to Columbia and my parents worked and worked and worked, contacting all sorts of people, to try and get my status clarified. I remember the summer came along of '32 and they made a contact with a man who was supposed to be a Christian man in the Army who was an ex...a retired Army colonel in New York City. No idea how we got in touch with him except that we went to see him and he was a typical rough Army officer, you know, in this way and he...I can remember at one point in there where he blamed the mission for not having seen to it that the right things were done for me to get in. And he (typical old Army) grabbed the phone and called up our home office and talked to our general director there who was a wonderful man of God.

SHUSTER: [Henry] Campbell?

BARNETT: Yeah. Old Mr. Campbell. Quiet and wonderful man of God. And he just started lighting into him over that telephone in the roughest sort of language [chuckles] and giving him a real hard time. But those are memories that I have of it. But somehow I think that that was the contact that was eventually used because eventually we...I was in the home and my dad and mother were...had come home with us to bring us, but they felt that we were on sound ground and the Lord would take care of it so they returned to the field in that summer. And I was left still this thing not cleared it up and almost every week someone from immigration would stop in to check up on me to make sure that I was there. It is a far cry from what is going on today with the masses of immigrants that are here that nobody knows are here. But then they were checking on me almost every week.

SHUSTER: Well, it would seem that even in the 1930's there were masses of immigrants.

BARNETT: Well, man, they were sure...they were sure checking on me, a poor little missionary kid [chuckles], you know.

SHUSTER: Yes, it must have been pretty traumatic.

BARNETT: And then they were.... I got notes[?], "You are going to have to get out...go back to your country." So I remember in those days the thought came up, "Well, here's Canada right along side of us. It's British. Why not go up to Canada and get the papers corrected there and come in?" So a letter was written up to the Canadian authorities asking if it wasn't possible to do that. And [chuckles] we got back the shortest letter to the [unclear] that you've ever seen. It simply stated, "Canada does not want the backwash of the United States in this country." That was it. [laughs] So the time had come toward the end of that summer, going on to the fall, that I was all ready to leave and return to Kenya. And just, I think, the following week I was supposed to be on way back to Kenya when a letter came through from Washington, the Immigration department in Washington, stating that everything had been settled, cleared up and that I was being put on the permanent immigration record in the States and would be free to go on and apply for my American citizenship next time I [unclear]. And then it wasn't until later on that a case such as mine had to be handled in the same way. There is no law that would have allowed me to stay in the States. By law I had to got out and come back in again. And the only way that it could be done would be by individual...being individually handled by the United States Congress. So I had to be brought up before the United States Congress where an individual law was passed to allow me to stay in the country.

SHUSTER: Was that introduced by your congressman or...?

BARNETT: I'm sure it was introduced by that Army colonel.

SHUSTER: Was he a representative?

BARNETT: He wasn't a representative but he had the knowledge, he had the pull, he knew how to reach the congressman and apparently got in touch with the right people in Congress to get this through. So to us, of course, it was just a miracle. It was the Lord's grace that allowed us to stay in. And so that was...from high school then I went on to Columbia Bible College where most of the big boys or people from the Westervett Home were going on at that time, getting their basic education at Columbia Bible College and some of them with that background of two years at Columbia were going to the University of South Carolina.

SHUSTER: You had mentioned that going to high school...Central High School was quite an experience for you, coming from Kenya. What did you mean by that?

BARNETT: Well, suddenly dumped in with a bunch of kids that were pure ruffians, you know, and something that we had just been totally protected from in our missionary environment. Our the time that I was out there it had had a maximum of thirty students in it when I left Kijabe and suddenly I was into a school, I think, with two or three thousand students in it. And there was...the first thing I came up against was hazing against new students...against new students coming in. And I was being threatened and so on by other students and....

SHUSTER: They threatened to beat you up?

BARNETT: To beat me up. They were going to meet me afterwards, after school and give me a hard time and that sort of thing. Fortunately at that time my brother Paul and Earl Anderson, both of whom were big, tough, physical boys, were into that school before me. And they were seniors at that time and were ready to graduate [?] when I started that place and some of these same toughs tried to get after them, you know, and then later they were trying to get after me. [chuckles] And day in shop, one of these guys came after Paul. And he just turned around and grabbed the fellow and bodily threw him out the window of the...of the shop, threw him right out. And from then on we never had any trouble whatever with these guys [unclear]. But it was an interesting thing coming up against different standards and directly out of a English curriculum into an American curriculum. And it took a bit of adjusting.

SHUSTER: It sounds like your first year in America was really very anguished.

BARNETT: Well, in many ways it was. It was probably more so because I was an extremely shy individual, very shy. And probably a bit withdrawn and facing up to that sort of thing was...was not easy. It was a very difficult thing. And actually...I...I talk about missionary kids having their problems. It was interesting. I never...I never thought of it in terms that I hear so often from missionary kids today. I know a lot of them seem to have regrets that they were raised on the mission field and some things here at home. But I never had that, never once. I never had any doubts that my parents were called to the field. I was...never had any doubts whatever as to the love that my parents had for me and the concern they had for me. [Unclear] in the States. And mail came rather slowly and boat mail took a minimum of three months to get a letter to us. And so the letters were rather far between. But, man, how we would looked forward to them. And every time they came, you just have the feeling that your parents were right there with you. There was that conveyed, a deep love and concern for us. It was also the background of...of Christianity being made extremely real and practical. I think I indicated before that...that we were raised in a family background of very, very little. We had almost nothing in our home in the way of funds, and yet we never went without a meal. And the Lord continually provided. And my father said to us...all children, "The one thing I covet for you is all is what I did not get, and that's a college education. And we are going to pray and expect the Lord will see you through college. At the same time, " he said, "we have nothing to give you help you with your college." Well, I remember that was so and yet I do remember at the same time that my parents transferring a portion of their support directly to us to help us in the only way that they could. I remember that in those days they use to get I think it was thirty dollars or something like that a month from a lady in Florida and we discovered that that money was coming toward us for our education every year and we knew what a tremendous sacrifice that was, because we knew how important [?] it had been. But the practicality of it was that our parents taught us to expect the Lord to provide. Not to doubt Him, but that He would take care of us. And with that background, it was absolutely amazing because eventually all five of us finished college and three of us went on to professional studies afterwards. And all of us came through without a penny of debt, owing nothing at any time, because we were raised on the basis to owe nothing. If you have to...have to borrow, it's better not to have it than to borrow it. That's the way we were raised.

SHUSTER: When you came to the U.S., of course, you had grown up and lived most of your life among Africans and coming to South Carolina, how did you react to the relations between the races there?

BARNETT: As far as we were concerned, we got along beautifully. We...we loved the black people, we always had. And all I can say is, it was a traumatic experience for me and I am sure for the rest of the guys to see the way in which the colored people, the blacks, were...were handled there in the South. It was our first experience to see that sort of thing. There was no question that these people were second and third class citizens. We used to drive along the road, say, in South Carolina and it was a very common experience to see chain gang out along the roads, repairing the roads or digging in the fields or chopping wood or something like that. And they...they were all in the stripped uniforms with chains, one ankled [?] to the other. We had never seen anything like that, to see people handled like that and the guy with the rifle standing over on the side there all the time. It made very deep impressions on me. And then we were in Colombia of course where the main penitentiary of the country was...of the state. And we attended church at of the Presbyterian churches in the city and the pastor of the church was a real man of God who was a wonderful Bible teacher. The only thing again that we couldn't understand was just about everybody in the church lighting up their cigarettes and cigars as they came out of the church, including the pastor. This goodness, we couldn't understand a thing like that, with our background. [unclear] But I was being educated the ways of the South and the tobacco markets were in the South land. But this pastor was also the chaplain for the penitentiary. And so we were pretty well informed (because he used to teach our Sunday school class too, this pastor) of what went on within the penitentiary. And it was such a common occurrence that I used to have bad dreams over it, of these executions that were going on in the penitentiary in the electric chair. It was being used very, very frequently and almost invariably the ones that were being executed were black. And so often the...the charge against them was the...rape against...raping a white woman or something like that. And we knew that it had to be trumped up. An awful lot of it was just false charges against them. And was a tremendous eye opener to what society could be. We didn't know anything about it. We had seen rough handling in Africa. I think I'd mentioned before one of these settlers who had in a fit of rage hit one of the Africans over the head with a club and killed him right there in front of us. And the settler people in Africa were certainly rough people in their handling of the Africans. But I never expected to see that sort of an attitude toward a fellow man in our own country right here in the States where the blacks definitely were down here somewhere, way down. And I think the presence of our group there in South Carolina, all coming from the background that we did, was bound to have a deep impression on a lot of those people there in Columbia, in the church and so on because there would be debates and discussions and so on on these sort of things. In Bible classes or in the church or on picnics, we mixed in with the people. And I think right then we probably had our bit to contribute to the changes that were going to come in the United States in its attitudes toward the races and so on.

SHUSTER: You think you influenced some of the....

BARNETT: Well, I'm sure...

SHUSTER: ...people?

BARNETT: ...we did, I'm sure there was influence over here toward a change. I think the presence too of Columbia Bible College had a big impact there in the South.

SHUSTER: In what way?

BARNETT: Well, there was no question of its impact as a real spiritual uplift organization and training organization. And the majority of the students were drawn from the South, though we had students coming from all over the States, particularly the North and up into New England and so on. They came to Columbia while I was there. But the...the...the students were having their Christian service assignments all over the city of Columbia and out into the suburbs in neighboring towns and so on, where there's no question of the impact of the more Christian Bible approach as being presented to the people. And our assignments was not just in white schools and churches and so on. We were out mixing with the black churches and...and schools and Sunday school classes and with all of them. And that sort of thing normally was not accepted. A white to go into a black school was just virtually an unheard of sort of thing down there. And we were looked at cross-eyed, you know. Whites would see you go into a set-up like that. It had its impressions and I'm sure it went a long way in helping to lay the foundations that were badly needed to begin to change thought processes, attitudes, and so on.

SHUSTER: Now, was the school integrated at that time? Were there black and white students?

BARNETT: At Bible College, no, no. At that time when we were there were no blacks in the school. But I'm sure things have changed. The school's developed and grown tremendously since I was there. I...after I completed my second year at Bible College, I had the next major change in my own life occur because I had been in the Westervett Home up until that time. And it was 1935 by then that I went to the place where I had enough [pauses] in me to realize that if I was ever going to get anywhere that I had to get out on my own feet, away from where I was protected, home atmosphere all the time. And to date a girl was.... was just out of me to even think of it. That was my background. I was so shy and difficult and yet, man-oh-man, I would have loved to have dated a girl, inside of me, but to ever get to that place, I knew that I...some miracle had to take place in me to make it possible for me to live in the world, that's all, and to be of any real use. So, with encouragement from my oldest brother, Arthur, who by then was just getting ready to start into medical school...headed for medical school, and from Dr. and Mrs. [Charles G.] Sterrett. The Sterretts were wonderful old people and they were my oldest brother Eric's in-laws. (Eric married the Sterrett's daughter.) And Dr. Sterrett was the professor of Greek at Columbia Bible College. And they saw what I needed and they just encouraged me. And with the help of these different ones I took a major step and left...left the Westervett Home and went into the Bible College...

SHUSTER: Into a dormitory?

BARNETT: a boarding...student in the dormitory. And I know it was only the grace of the Lord that enabled me for it as somewhere in that...during that year, the Lord did a miracle in my life where I began to see other people and quit looking inside of myself all the time. And I found how wonderful it was to be able to walk into the dining room and smile at somebody and say "Good morning" and find that other face light up because I smiled and talked to them, said something. It was amazing. It changed my whole life. It opened me up into a totally different person. Not that I haven't been a shy person generally and I still am. There are many things that I find difficult to do. To sit down and talk on a personal basis with somebody is far more difficult for me then to get up on a platform and talk to a crowd. But the...the outcome was that I was absolutely amazed that in my senior year I got elected as the president of the student body of Columbia Bible College. And I couldn't believe it. But it was only evidence of the grace from the Lord. He's a miracle worker.

SHUSTER: Had you been shy in Africa at Rift Valley Academy or did this...


SHUSTER: ...develop when you came to New York?

BARNETT: I think...I think basically I was a shy person, but you know how you have shy people and once they get to know people, which wasn't difficult to do in a situation like R.V.A. where there was just a few kids, thirty kids and you could open up and sort of be yourself, but this country, it was a different situation, but I began to experience in a wonderful way and so...the Lord's help.... And it was during this last year, you see, at Columbia when I was in this position of leadership in the school, in the student body, that we began to have ideas of how the student body could be used more for the Lord, and especially how the missionary vision could be expanded.

SHUSTER: did the Student Missionary Fellowship begin?

BARNETT: Well, it was a group of us that were there and that senior year that I was there there were several of the students who were real live wires for the Lord. Joe McCollough was one of them who was a classmate of mine, Art Barber was another one, and...and several others and then that same year, that year that we were seniors began the thrust on the Grad School at Columbia Bible College, the beginning of the period [?]. And the ones that made such an impression on me at that time and became very close friends of mine largely because of our Christian association around the developing of the Student Missionary Fellowship: Ken Hood, from Wheaton, and (my mind, I can't think of him now) one that was...headed the grad school here.

SHUSTER: Tenney, Merrill Tenney?

BARNETT: No, followed him.

SHUSTER: Oh, Wil Norton?

BARNETT: Oh, Wil Norton, Wil Norton, yeah. Wil and Ken both came from Wheaton, graduated from Wheaton, took grad school down there at Columbia. And it was during this year that in our fellowships and so on, the vision came of..of the need for extension of the work and vision for missions into our schools. And that's where we got together for the formation of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship. And it was that group (there was a group of about five of us) that got together and I guess it was Ken and Wil that suggested the need to come up here to Wheaton...


BARNETT: ...and see if the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship wasn't a good organization to be initiated here on the Wheaton campus as well.

SHUSTER: What...were there any other groups at that time for the same kind of purpose?

BARNETT: Well, I wasn't well-enough acquainted with...with Wheaton. I'd had almost no contact with Wheaton except for Mr. Buswell. Dr. [James Oliver] Buswell [president of Wheaton at this time] had come to Columbia Bible College and I'd heard him speak, I think, once or twice down there and so those were the contacts that I had had. But it was a period, apparently, in the history of the Christian movements in the various schools in which the...the emphasis on missions had reached a pretty low ebb, and the organizations that had been real live wires for the Lord in periods before that gradually had simply lost their real vision for the Lord. And I know that this was the feeling of...of these men and particularly Wil and Ken and Joe McCollough who were the real leaders behind this group, that there was a real need for another organization to begin to take the place and to carry the ball for missions.

SHUSTER: What kind of things did the Fellowship do?

BARNETT: Basically, they would meet together for...a group all together first in which usually one of the...there was a missionary who would speak and present their field, part of the world, and then the group broke up in the last half hour for various prayer groups that were centered around various parts of the world: an Africa prayer group, Europe prayer group, South America prayer group, and so on like that in which there was a leader for each one of these groups and the collection of particular prayer requests [coughs] and a real time of concentrated prayer for these various areas of the world and for individuals. It was a [coughs again]...

SHUSTER: Would you like a glass of water or a cup of tea? A cup of tea?

BARNETT: Anything to drink would be fine.


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