Susan Easton Black retires to serve mission with husband

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Susan Easton Black at her last class as a professor. Photo by Gabriel Meyr.
Susan Easton Black at her last class as a professor. (Photo by Gabriel Meyr)

Susan Easton Black finished her final class at BYU to a standing ovation after 37 years and a prolific career as a religion professor.

The class was an exam review for REL 324, Pioneers and Persecution, and before she launched into the kind of detailed, note-free lecture she’s known for, Black asked students to stand up if they were going on a mission.

“You’ll notice that I’m standing up too,” Black said after they announced where they were going. “That’s right. They finally lowered the age so now I qualify.”

Black and her husband, George Durrant, are currently waiting for their assignment.

“I wanted to serve a mission while I still have health,” Black said later. “I’ve had friends who waited too long.”

A hundred or more students listened in the auditorium on April 15 as Black reviewed facts about early presidents of the Church. She added a touch of her trademark humor after mentioning that Brigham Young only had 11 days of formal schooling.

“With some irony, we are actually at Brigham Young University, (named after) the prophet who spent the least amount of time listening to someone like me,” she said.

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Brent L. Top addresses Black’s students and the faculty who stopped in on the historic class. (Photo by Gabriel Meyr)

Many students are grateful they had the chance to listen to her. This was the fourth class Christine Schraedel, an interdisciplinary humanities student, has taken from Black. Schraedel had always been fascinated with Church history and first took the class hoping she would learn something she didn’t already know and wouldn’t find in the manuals. She was not disappointed.

“You come to class with a blank notebook and a blank mind, and you leave class with a few good jokes, a hand cramp, a brain full of facts and a better sense of how real these people were,” Schraedel said. “These weren’t superhuman … but ordinary people like you and me who were molded by God. I feel the same way about Sister Black.”

This final class with Black came at a crucial time for Schraedel.

“I had just returned from a mission, was trying to reconcile that identity crisis, trying to decide how to best use my last year at ‘the Y’ and how I could continue being my best self,” Schraedel said. “From being in this class, I learned that women make a difference. Women can stick up for themselves, can have opinions and are respected if they do it the way Sister Black does. … All those women who are claiming that the Church treats women unfairly might benefit from some time in her class. They’ll see what an influence a righteous and intelligent woman who is willing to work can have in the lives of human beings.”

Brent L. Top, chair of the Church History and Doctrine department, rose and spoke after Black concluded the class.

“I just wanted to let you know that Sister Black is probably the most recognizable woman associated with BYU,” Top said. He also explained that she begged to always be available as a substitute teacher in the future.

“(So) I’m planning to be sick a lot when she gets home from her mission,” he said.

But he may have to act fast, because Black hopes she and her husband will be serial missionaries that serve multiple missions.

Students lined up after class to express their thanks to Black (center). Photo by Gabriel Meyr.
Students line up after class to express their thanks to Black (center). (Photo by Gabriel Meyr)

Black leaves a towering academic legacy behind her. She has authored 134 books, traveled the world and spoken in all fifty states. She is glad the books make her scholarship available to people who cannot attend BYU, but she pointed to one thing in particular as her most valued legacy.

“My students, look what they’ve become,” she said. “I’m thrilled about that. … Every time I come to this class, I feel like I just walked into sacred space, sacred ground, because of what you will do for the Lord serving in the Church.”

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