Father Green made history at Sewanee in 1965 as one of the first two African American students to earn a degree from the University of the South when he was awarded a Master of Sacred Theology degree from the School of Theology, together with his first cousin, the Rev. William Fletcher O’Neal.
The Rev. Canon Dr. Joseph N. Green T’65, H’10 died on January 13, 2023 at the age of 96. Father Green’s remarkable life was guided by faith, service, resilience, and perseverance. Over his long and distinguished career, Father Green served as a parish priest, a civil servant, and a local politician. The through-line in his career was his commitment, in the words of our baptismal covenant, to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Many of Father Green’s battles were fought on our campus. When young Joseph Green and his cousin, William O’Neal came to Sewanee in 1959 they were not welcomed by all: Jim Crow ruled Sewanee, not the Gospel. Yet the cousins persevered until they had earned their degrees. Former Vice-Chancellor of the University of the South, Ambassador Reuben Brigety described their courage: And yet these young priests arrived in what was self-consciously the citadel of the Lost Cause, with the audacity of their faith that they—as fellow Christians, as fellow human beings—belonged here as much as anyone else did. It is a reasonable understatement to say that not everybody agreed with them at the time, and yet through their courage and their determination, and what I imagine could only have been a heart full of love that is unknown to so many of us, they persevered in the mission that our Lord has set out for them. Father Green and Father O'Neal pushed this institution to live up to the Gospel it purported to embrace, pushed it to respect the dignity of every human being, pushed it to acknowledge with the Apostle Paul that truly all are one in Christ. Father Green's persistent, faithful witness made Sewanee a better place for all who came after him. Father Green’s life is an example for all of us, an icon of a priest who served his people and his city, and of a Christian who saw wrong and set out to fix it. Father Green was with us by Zoom in the fall of 2020 when Ambassador Brigety spoke at the unveiling of his portrait. The Vice-Chancellor told Father Green, We induct you as one of the founding fathers of the University of the South. We are grateful for your witness. May generations yet to be born, black and white, of every nationality and ethnicity under the sun, learn from your courage and apply it to challenges yet to develop.