Hubert Locke: Holocaust scholar, Deputy, and cherished friend of PSR

July 21, 2010

HLocke“Serving Pacific School of Religion is the only thing I would have come out of retirement to do,” says Hubert G. Locke, “and that’s because of the great affection I have for this place.” Between July 1 and the end of September, Locke served as acting president of PSR—for the second time. He first did this in the spring of 2003, during a sabbatical for President Bill McKinney.

Hubert Locke recently spoke of the path that led him to PSR. Born in Detroit, MI in 1934, he grew up in a religious household, attending church twice on Sundays at a conservative “non-instrumental” (no organs or other musical instruments allowed) branch of the Disciples of Christ church. His father, who came North from Tennessee just before World War I, worked in a steel mill for the Ford Motor Company. His mother stayed at home raising Hubert and his two younger sisters but also worked in a war plant during World War II.

Young Hubert remembers idolizing the family’s Disciples minister, who had dinner with the Lockes once a week. “I worshiped the ground he walked on,” Locke says, “and wanted to be just like him when I grew up.” Following his undergraduate studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, therefore, Locke went to the University of Chicago Divinity School.

There he became fascinated by the leading contemporary German theologians—Barth, Bonhoeffer, and others—and their response to National Socialism in the 1930s. “Here’s this little black kid from the inner city of Detroit,” he recalls, “who becomes so interested in what these great minds were doing and saying about their own society while it was coming apart at the seams. I was less interested in their theology than in what they were thinking while the Nazi brown shirts were parading up and down the streets and then trucking Jewish citizens off to the gas chambers."

 His lifelong interest in the Holocaust led to several of Locke’s books, including The German Church Struggle and the Holocaust, The Church Confronts the Nazis, and Learning from History: A Black Christian’s Perspective on the Holocaust.

The young seminary graduate, upon returning to Detroit, became pastor of a small “starter” Disciples congregation. At the same time, he served on the chaplain’s staff at his alma mater, Wayne State University. He served both posts until the mid-1960s, when he made a choice to give up the church for the academy.

Along the way, he also took on civic duties. He was executive director, from 1962 to 1965, of Detroit’s Citizens Committee for Equal Opportunity, a forerunner of the Urban Coalition, which served as a watchdog of the police in that volatile decade. In 1966, the young, progressive mayor of Detroit, Jerome Cavanagh, called Locke to ask if he would step over the blue line and work as an assistant to the police commissioner. Locke recalls: “I told him—respectfully, of course—you’ve got to be out of your mind!

“About two weeks later, I got a summons from John Conyers, who had just won his first term seat in Congress, and from the head of the NAACP and the head of the Urban League—basically, the black power structure. They let me know that they wanted me to accept this job.”

Locke agreed to do so for a year, wound up serving two, and he had an impact. When he joined the Detroit police force, there were only 137 African Americans out of 4,200 officers—in a town that was 25% black. Soon, with Locke’s help, each new recruiting class was 25% black. In addition to his day job with the police commissioner, Locke spent many evenings and weekends riding in patrol cars (“in order to establish credibility with the rank and file”). He became known, and appreciated, by the local black population as “the Deputy” and “the Rev.” He learned, he said, to have a lot of sympathy for what police officers are up against.

Locke was serving with the police during the turbulence in Detroit in July 1967, when both the National Guard and the 82nd Airborne were called in to restore order, leaving 43 people dead, 1,189 injured, and over 7,000 people arrested. His first book, published two years later, was The Detroit Riot of 1967. He also has written several articles about his experience in police work.

His experience in city government, including the police work, provided Locke with his academic specialty, public policy—“even though I never took a course in the topic.” After teaching urban studies at Wayne State, he was named dean of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service at the University of Nebraska (1972-1976); he then spent 25 years at the University of Washington, where he served as associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, as vice provost for academic affairs, and as professor in and dean of the Evans School of Public Affairs. He retired in 1999.

In 1993, Locke was asked to serve on PSR’s board of directors, which he did for nine years. He was here during the seminary’s period of unrest, as well as for the selection and first years of Bill McKinney’s presidency. “It was also out of a sense of loyalty to Bill that I came here, twice, to serve as acting president,” Locke says. “Bill, of course, walks on water. I think he’s one of the best things that ever happened to PSR.

“The faculty here too, collectively, I believe are one of the finest to be found in the country in seminary education—not only because they are respected scholars in their fields, but also because of their vision. What the contemporary world needs in religious leadership is what they are committed to provide.”

Updated October 26, 2010