Guide to the Robert T. Osborn Papers, 1963-1967


Robert Osborn was a Professor of Religion at Duke University. His collection includes clippings, correspondence and trial-related documents relating to a civil rights protest in Chapel Hill in January 1964.

Collection Details

Record Group
Robert T. Osborn papers
Osborn, Robert T.
0.25 Linear Feet, 100 Items
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Material in English

Collection Overview

Contains clippings, correspondence, subpoenas, summons and statements relating to a January 1964 civil rights demonstration in Chapel Hill, and subsequent trials in Hillsboro. Correspondence and court documents are photocopies.

More Biographical / Historical Info

Using These Materials

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In off-site storage; 48 hours advance notice is required for use.

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Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

More copyright and citation information

How to Cite

[Identification of item], Robert T. Osborn Papers, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Correspondence, 1964-1965
Box 1
Clippings, 1964 and undated
Box 1
Clippings, 1964-1967
Box 1
Writings, Subpoenas, Notes Exchanged in Court during Civil Rights Trial, 1964-1966
Box 1
Writings by Watts Grill Sit-In Participants, 1964
Box 1
Correspondence, Notes, Statement, Summons, 1963-64 and undated
Box 1
Duke/UNC Civil Rights Protests in Chapel Hill, 1964-1965
Box 1

Historical Note

Biographical/Historical note

An ordained Methodist minister, Robert Tappan Osborn was born in 1926 in Seattle, Washington. He received his A.B. from U.C.L.A. in 1946 and his B.D. from Garrett Biblical Institute in 1950, and spent a year at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. In 1954 he was awarded the Ph.D. from Drew University and joined the faculty of the Duke University Department of Religion that same year, where he taught until his retirement in 1997. He served a term as chair of that department. His research focused on the field of contemporary theology and Christian thought and his publications include the books Freedom in Modern Theology (1967) and The Barmen Declaration as a Paradigm for a Theology of the American Church (1991).

Osborn became active in the civil rights movement during the 1960s, advocating for Christian involvement in issues of racial justice. In January 1964, he and four other Duke faculty members (Professor William Wynn of the Psychology Department, Professor Fred Herzog and Professor Harmon Smith, both of Duke Divinity School, and Professor Peter Klopfer of the Zoology Department) joined a group including students and faculty from UNC and NCCU (white and African American) for a restaurant sit-in at Watts Grill in Chapel Hill. The professors were arrested on counts of trespassing; and the ensuing, drawn-out trials in Hillsborough ultimately led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Klopfer vs. the State of North Carolina. In the final days of his term as governor, Terry Sanford (later to become president of Duke University) pardoned the professors.

Related Material

  • Department of Religion Records, 1954-1978. (University Archives. Duke University.)
  • News Service Biographical Files, 1960-2004. (University Archives. Duke University. )

Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.


The Robert T. Osborn Papers were received by the University Archives as a gift in 2005, 2013.

Processing Information

Processed by Jessica Wood, October 2006

Encoded by Sherrie Bowser, November 2006

Updated by Kimberly Sims, May 2013

Accessions A2005-50 and UA2013-0017 are described in this finding aid.