Lasting Ties: Making room for others

1969 Leatherman family photo included his children (front) Fred, Becki and Sue (Leatherman) Sommers ’86; and (back) Dan and his wife at the time, Kathryn (Shantz) Leatherman ’61

This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2023 issue of The Bulletin.

By Joe Springer ’80, curator, Mennonite Historical Library

ON MARCH 4, 1969, Daniel (Dan) Leatherman ’58, associate professor of political science, sent a three-page resignation letter to President Paul Mininger ’34. Leatherman had distinguished himself academically as an undergrad and after studying at the University of Chicago, he returned to join the GC faculty in 1963.

Dan Leatherman, 1968-69

Leatherman was one of several “Young Turk” faculty members — sought out by student dissenters in conflict with administrators and practices. However, his resignation letter was prompted less by student action than discussions with other faculty. He wrote: “As you know, some of us have felt strongly enough about the need to hire one or more Black professors as soon as possible that we have offered to leave temporarily (or even permanently)” if GC would find that an African American “becomes available in our field.” In fact, Lee Roy Berry, a Black graduate of Eastern Mennonite University, had recently begun graduate study in political science at nearby University of Notre Dame. Leatherman noted that he had first considered taking a partial or temporary leave. Ultimately he recognized his that leaving “to make room for” Berry was repellant. “Thus, whatever [Berry] decides to do, I must resign to create a genuine vacancy [granting] any successor the …independence he needs and deserves.”

Leatherman enumerated additional personal and institutional factors for leaving, including noting that he is untying his “Alma Mater’s apron strings” not out of anger or arrogance, “but with a little fear, some regret, much wistfulness, and … with hopeful expectations for what [I might accomplish] ‘on the outside.’”

GC did hire Berry in 1969; he was GC’s first African-American professor and taught until retiring in 2010.

Had Leatherman’s convictions not led him to resign in 1969, the college almost certainly would have terminated him in 1980 at the time he publicly acknowledged his identity as a gay man. He died this year at the age of 85.