“All a man has is his history,” quoted James Morehead. “When he dies, his history should live on.” This final line from the film Beowulf has been the inspiration for Morehead to begin writing his autobiography. The professor of communication at Anderson University has a unique story that anyone who hears is sure to be awestruck by.
Morehead was born in Monroe, La., at a time of civil unrest. African Americans were still segregated, and areas in the southern states were often hostile. What makes this particular African American boy different from all the others growing up at this time? “I was born with a lack of pigmentation in my skin,” said Morehead. “My skin is white.”
His story begins with a loving mother who was forced to leave college when she became pregnant. Nine months later, James was born without a father and into a world of condemnation. “I was always too white to be black and too black to be white,” said Morehead. He didn’t fit in with either race. While growing up he was given the nickname Bright Boy.
When Morehead was 5 years old, his mother married a farmer by the name of Alfred Morehead. This new husband soon thereafter adopted Morehead and the family grew to a size of 10; Morehead is one of eight children. As the children grew up, Morehead struggled in the classroom, socially and emotionally. He was unaccepted and unmotivated, being isolated from two communities. “A fourth grade teacher told me that I’d never accomplish anything in my life,” said Morehead. The Bright Boy was on his own.
However, one ninth grade drama and speech teacher changed his life. Acie Freeman saw potential in Morehead and invited him to read a part in a play rehearsal. “Freeman befriended me and became like a surrogate father,” said Morehead, whose relationship with his adopted father was not ideal. This is when Morehead became hooked on theatre. “It was my escape from reality,” he said. He could play any role – paint his face black or leave it white -- and step into someone else’s life. “I could be someone other than myself,” he said.
He then worked hard in school to earn a scholarship to Grambling State University in Grambling, La. After teaching theatre in the Oklahoma public school system for nine years, Morehead went back to school and became the first African American to graduate from Oklahoma State University with a master’s degree in theatre in 1979. He returned to his alma mater and taught theatre at Grambling State for three years.
Morehead served as the director of the arts at Odessa College in Odessa, Texas, in 1982. Two years later he applied for a position at what was known then as Anderson College. “It wasn’t until teaching at Grambling State that I began to find the Lord in my life,” said Morehead. In 1984, Anderson College was beginning a new department of communications and theatre arts. “A good friend named Joe Womack advised me to apply for a position,” said Morehead. He agreed and was fond of the idea of blending academic and spiritual life. “Anderson sounded like an ideal opportunity to do so,” said Morehead.
He is currently in his 26th year of teaching at Anderson University. Morehead has also grown deeper in his faith and became an ordained Church of God Minister in 1993. He is now the senior pastor at The Pasadena Heights Church of God in Indianapolis, Ind. He married his wife, Jean, and together they raised two successful daughters.
Morehead’s autobiography is not the first piece of literature he’s created. He has written two full plays, one titled The Crutch and the other titled Shades of Grey. He is also currently working on his third, titled The Prophet. Though he has no publisher arranged yet for the autobiography, the text is half-finished and the working title is Bright Boy: The Story of a Misfit who was Outfitted for Life.
Morehead’s story is an inspiring one. “Coming from a difficult background is no excuse to fail,” he said. He inspires his speech and theatre students daily with the words of encouragement he rarely heard as a boy. “My past has toughened me up,” he said. “I believe now that I can be just as good as or better than most.”
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2009, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the sixth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.