By Jeannie Babb, T’12, T’13

In the spring of 2021, the School of Theology announced that the name “DuBose” would be dropped from the annual alumni lectures. The lectures were previously given in commemoration of William Porcher DuBose and were modeled after a series of talks he gave to commemorate 40 years of service at the University of the South.

The name change came as no surprise. For several years, the School of Theology has been openly reexamining its ties to institutional racism and slavery. William Porcher DuBose was born on a plantation where hundreds of men, women, and children were held in bondage. He served the Confederate army, as both soldier and chaplain, in support of the continued enslavement of Black people. When he devoted his life to the priesthood and education, he continued to use those platforms to promote racist, pro-slavery ideals, and “Lost Cause” mythology. He praised the Klu Klux Klan. His acclaim as a theologian does not obscure this legacy.

Learning of the name change, his namesake William Porcher DuBose III says, “It is what Christ would want.” The School of Theology contacted him concerning the name change and he offered to share his personal journey as he wrestles with a legendary figure in his own family history.

William Porcher DuBose III, who goes by Billy, was born in South Carolina and grew up in New Jersey. He attended the University of the South, graduating in 1977 with a bachelor of arts degree in English and “the most important friendships I would ever know in life.” While at Sewanee, he earned his pilot’s license. This passion led to a career as a flight instructor, commercial pilot, and manager for a corporate flight department. Sewanee also inspired him with a love for church history and theology; he eventually earned a master of divinity degree from Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta.

Sewanee also taught him about his own family history, beginning with his first encounter as a prospective student. “Professor Waring McCrady took me on a tour of the campus. He showed me various stained-glass windows in St. Augustine’s Chapel, a statue in the reredos, plaques on the wall of All Saints’ Chapel, and even a monument in the graveyard that all commemorated someone named William Porcher DuBose (1853–1918). I later asked my grandfather, ‘Granddaddy, who was this guy? Did you know him? Was he at Sewanee when you were there?’ My grandfather replied simply, ‘Oh, that was Uncle Willy.’”

Billy’s grandfather was the last of seven siblings born to a nephew of William Porcher DuBose. He says, “In the tradition of southern aristocracy, names tend to be recycled through generations.” The youngest nephew was named for the uncle, and the name passed through two more generations without a thorough explanation of provenance.

“You can imagine my astonishment,” Billy says, when clergy and friends pointed out his own name in the Calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts on Aug. 18.

Billy began to study the theology of DuBose, wanting to understand why he was revered as a theologian. “Reading his theology was a tough slog. I had to take a graduate degree in theology to appreciate what he was really about theologically. Don Armentrout wrote that ‘DuBose was proleptic of process theologians.’”

Like many white Episcopalians, Billy DuBose has spent the last several years confronting his heritage and privilege. This call to account was heightened by his time at Candler, where he was exposed to many wonderful African American teachers and students. In what he tearfully calls “metanoia,” he speaks of waking up as Billy DuBose, son of planters and of exploitation who named his own son William Porcher DuBose IV. He uses the Greek word metanoia to name his growing awareness and conscious turning, in part because of its connotation of moving into a higher mind, toward a fuller incarnation of God, becoming the new creation.


Throughout Billy’s metanoia, Sewanee and William Porcher DuBose have often occupied his thoughts. Ironically, perhaps, the theology of DuBose has been helpful. The theologian wrote, “We all find contradictions in ourselves hard to reconcile and unify. My heart is very disposed to faith, to recognition of truth, to trust, and consent, and agreement. But my mind is naturally analytic and skeptical. I have all my life been coming to what of truth I hold, and there is truth to which I have all my life been coming, to which I have not yet come. All the truth of the Church is not yet mine: there are points of it that I know to be true, because I have been all the time approximating to them; but I am still waiting, and shall probably die waiting, for them to become true to me.” (Turning Points in My Life, Chapter III: Church Influences)


William Porcher DuBose acknowledged that God’s creation is continually unfolding through expansion, evolution, and the dynamics in the universe observed by science and physical processes. Billy says, “God is not finished with the world nor with human beings. Process theology is usually thought to be a 20th-century phenomenon, and this is because much of its impetus and energy came from intellectual challenges from the enormous scientific breakthroughs that emerged at the end of the 19th- century—think of Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud—that strained the relationship between religion and science.”


Billy says DuBose “grappled with the prevailing understandings of God, Christ, and the Church, and the advent of scientific challenges. He was struggling to be a modern, thinking person and to bring our ‘God words’ into meaningful relationship with the new world that was emerging, continually unfolding in God’s creation.”


Studying DuBose helped Billy to better understand his forebear’s gifts and failings. “He was a pastor, not a prophet. He was revered because of his gifts as a teacher, chaplain, and role model for Sewanee students in the early, formative years of the University. A prophet might have called out the human evil that was slavery. He was ministering to heal the people of a conquered world in the best way he could, I get that.”


Billy celebrated the news that the School of Theology was dropping the name of DuBose from the lectures. “The name change represents an institutional change, a step in the metanoia of the school. Sewanee has to go through metanoia the same way we all do. It gives me hope, that Sewanee and the School of Theology is setting an example for individuals to follow.”