When Dorsey Stebbins, 12 years old, was not able to successfully help his father in his business as this latter expected, his father, fearing for him, bluntly told him that he “would not make it” in his life. This affected Stebbins very much and remained with him ever since. It, however, also created in him the determination to be persistent in whatever he did, to put in longer hours at tasks to make up for what he lacked, and that eventually he would succeed.
“I am not eloquent at words,” Stebbins says, “but I use signs to protest injustice wherever I see it, and I do it day after day, without being deterred, until someone notices.” “My persistent protest signs are my voice, and i hope they make a difference, even if a little at a time,” he adds.
Stebbins was born in 1932 in a religious family, his mother a Lutheran and his father member of the Church of the Brethren. Baptized as an infant, he attended, growing up, the Lutheran church of Miamisburg, OH, the town where his family lived. He felt all along that he was a “child” of God. He was pious, and all those who knew him assumed he would become one day a minister.
Heading to college and doubting his capabilities, he tried successively Education, Engineering, Liberal Arts, and finally the Lutheran Church Gustavus Adolphus College in St Peter, Minnesota. He worked hard, succeeded, was ordained a Lutheran minister and was offered two parishes in the same area.
“I wanted to do my best to be a good minister wherever I was needed,” he says. “I recognized that God loved me and everyone else, and I wanted to share this message with my parishioners.”
Stebbins remained 6 years in Minnesota then moved to lead other ministries in Dayton, then Loveland and Mason; he served as a Lutheran pastor for 22 years total. In 1977, and due to a misunderstanding with his bishop, he had to leave his last parish, the Holy Trinity church in Mason, and remained without one for 3 years. This lapsed time, according to the Lutheran Church rules, terminated officially his ministry. He later got a job as a high school teacher of mathematics in Dayton, OH, and remained in this position until 1992, when he retired to take care of his then wife, diagnosed with Alzheimer.
In the meantime Stebbins had met Maurice McCrackin (1905-1997), an American civil rights and peace activist, also a Presbyterian minister who was removed from his church St. Barnabas in Cincinnati’s West End, for standing up for his beliefs against the Vietnam War and refusing to pay his federal taxes as a result. McCrackin had then started the small Community Church on Dayton Street, downtown Cincinnati, and Stebbins joined it.
“Meeting McCrackin in 1985 triggered my real involvement in social justice as an activist,” says Stebbins. “When in college, I was, however, fascinated by any gifted person advocating for social justice and, thus, did contribute a little bit myself.”
Stebbins first act was in the Fall of 1958 when he and another seminarian went to Little Rock, Arkansas, to interview then Governor Orval Faubus, a Democrat, who was standing against desegregation of the Little Rock School District; and Daisy Bates, the American civil rights activist, publisher and journalist, who, on the other hand, was actively supporting it. They also interviewed a local author who had written an article in The Progressive in favor of it; the president of the White Citizens’ Council, a white supremacist organization founded in opposition to racial integration of schools; and various students at a junior college.
In 1960 and as a pastor, Stebbins attended a businessmen’s gathering and spoke out against accusations made by the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, the committee created in 1938 to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities of citizens and organizations suspected of having Communist ties. A local paper editor soon after and in response to his intervention, wrote in an editorial that colleges in America were now graduating communist sympathizers.
After meeting McCrackin, Stebbins followed him and participated in his numerous pacific activities, namely fighting for racial equality, for prisoner’s rights, for an end to militarism in the United States, for the sanctuary movement affecting then hispanic immigrants from Central America, against tearing down hotels that lodged the city poor… After McCrackin’s death in 1997, he followed leads by Buddy Gray, IJPC, Contact Center, and ACORN, participating in their various struggles for social justice.
In recent years, Stebbins protested Econocide (as defined by Alice Skirtz) and the gentrification of the Cincinnati neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine, regularly standing on its street corners, holding signs against the city and corporate actions that displace, in the name of economic development, poor residents they consider neither needed nor wanted.
With Streetvibes contributor writer Jim Luken, he protested 5 years ago the proposed take over by Western & Southern of the Anna Louise Inn downtown Cincinnati and its conversion into a de luxe hotel. The Inn had been functioning for over 100 years as a shelter for single women providing them with low-cost housing and various health services. Stebbins picketed persistently for 6 weeks in front of the Inn, holding his protest signs in locations visible to Inn’s employees and to passer bys, calling their attention to the unjust issue. His tenacity triggered an increasing number and size of local demonstrations that weighed strongly in the final sale settlement of $4 million by W&S, enabling Anna Louise Inn to continue its mission by building a new home at an alternate site.
In 2012, Stebbins was also one of the 1st Cincinnatians to religiously participate in the Occupy movement, hoping for a cultural and political revolution. He picketed, marched, demonstrated and attended the many strategic and sharing gatherings of the movement.
“I saw in the Occupy meetings something I had never seen before,” he says. “There was respect for everyone’s voice, and a lot of diversity; so many African Americans and so many whites involved together, and all commited to non-violence and to an equal and just world.”
Stebbins has also been participating in many of the Amos Project activities, for instance in the fight against massive incarceration, and now, for a couple of years, against Judge Tracie Hunter’s criminal sentence.
“They convicted her in 2014 for unlawful interest in a public contract, maintaining that she used her position as a judge to hire her brother. But they had no proof of it,” says Stebbins. “Just recently, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters broke the same law by offering a paid internship to the son of his good friend Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine upon his request, and nothing has been done about it,” he adds.
Stebbins regularly picketed the streets of Cincinnati, holding his signs in favor of Justice Hunter. In the beginning, he got no public acknowledgement, but after 3 weeks or so, drivers passing by started honking their horns in support.
“The issue is not out in the open and very few vocal leaders speak of it,” he states. “I am one of the rare white individuals to protest Hunter’s unjust sentencing; I see, however, my signs starting to make an effect. Unfortunately, racism is still alive and healthy in our society.”
Stebbins’ main concerns have always been what is right and good for the community, the country, the world. He is for equality for all, and for opportunities for a good and decent life across board. His commitments stem deeply from his Christian faith. Even though now retired as a Lutheran minister, he still attends the Ascension Lutheran Church, in Montgomery, OH, where he occasionnally teaches Sunday school, also the Community Church, at Dayton St, founded by his mentor McCrackin, and which recognizes his ordination.
“I see myself as an activist for justice and peace,” says Stebbins. “When unjust issues come up, I jump. I respond to the immediate, and my signs become my voice.”
Quoting Micah 6:8: “The Lord God has told us what is right and what He demands: ‘See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God’,” he adds: “This core sums up my approach as a follower of Jesus Christ.”
What Is Lutheranism Lutheranism is a major branch of Protestant Christianity which identifies with the theology of Martin Luther (1483–1546), a German friar, ecclesiastical reformer and theologian. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the Catholic Church launched the Protestant Reformation in the German-speaking territories of the Holy Roman Empire. The divide between the Lutherans and the Catholics centers primarily on two points: the proper source of authority in the church, or the formal principle (Scriptures alone for Lutherans, Scriptures and Tradition, i.e. doctrinal and spiritual authority of the Christian Church, for Catholics); and the doctrine of justification (i.e. salvation), or the material principle (justification by "grace alone" through "faith alone" in Jesus for Lutherans; through faith and good works for Catholics). Lutherans retain many of the liturgical practices and sacramental teachings of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, including baptism and the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper. Today Lutheranism is one of the largest denominations of Protestantism including approximately 80 million adherents worldwide.
Religious Peacemakers is a regular column published in Streetvibes; it highlights Greater Cincinnati individuals who use their faith and religious beliefs for peace and justice and for a better world.
It is authored by Saad Ghosn, founder and president of SOS (Save Our Souls) ART.