In June, I visited The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. It is part of my work with the Louisville Institute for which I was awarded a pastoral study grant to examine the sociopolitical construct of race’s influence on the malformation of Christian community. My project centers around the work and witness of Southern Baptist minister Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia. I felt drawn to Montgomery, Alabama as part of my pilgrimage to healing communities of faith.
I attended the 75th anniversary of Koinonia Farm’s founding last year. Walked the grounds and walked around in search of Jordan’s spirit with us. He believed that his Christian witness compelled him to break the laws of segregation, commanded him to work with persons socially colored black and to pay them a fair wage for work in the 1940s. His life was threatened. His businesses boycotted. His faith no doubt challenged.
He was even kicked out of his church. His sin– loving his neighbor.
Jordan held up a mirror when churches were expected to be a reflection of the broader society. Who else was doing this kind of work, challenging the stories we tell ourselves and daring to live into them? “We hold these truths to be self- evident…” Bryan Stevenson. The grounds that now house The Legacy Museum was a “slave warehouse.” The experience in the space for one present and available to experience this truth is indescribable.
This is not a tourist attraction but a space for truth- seekers. It tells another side of the story: the human cost of building a “great nation.” It did not come easy and there was much sacrifice. The sad and unfortunate truth is that the sacrifice was paid heavily in African and African American lives. The greed for power and wealth was worth their lives by the thousands.
Still, we talk about it as if it is “water under the bridge.” But, it is blood in the ground. Blood that is crying out much like Abel’s (Genesis 4.10). Likewise, God is looking for answers: “What have you done?”
The answer that is stuck in between our teeth or manifested by the lump in our throats is what gets in the way. Still, I am going my own way, the only way I know. Up and away from this train crash, this culture clash. I’ve seen this one before. It is a rerun hundreds of years old.
I am seeking hallowed ground, sacred space that challenges the dominant narrative of division, that laments our losses and keeps a record of them. Lynching in America is one that has been overlooked. Bryan Stevenson, the visionary for the museum and memorial, wants to make sure that we cannot look away. Thousands of people were lynched for one reason or another and no reason at all: “refusing to run as errand for a white woman,” “for organizing black voters in Choctaw County,” “for not allowing a white man to beat him in a fight,” “for performing the wedding of a black man and white woman.”
“A lynch mob of more than 1,000 men, women and children burned Zachariah Walker live in Coatesville, Pennsylvania in 1911.”
“Walter Johnson was lynched in Princeton, West Virginia in 1912 by a mob of 1,000 people.”
“Dozens of men, women and children were lynched in a massacre in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1917.”
Mary Turner was lynched, with her unborn child, at Folsom Bridge at the Brooks- Lowndes County Line in Georgia in 1918 for complaining about the recent lynching of her husband, Haynes Tuner.”
And there is more. Connected to American slavery, later convict leasing and now the prison industrial capitalist venture, Bryan Stevenson ties it altogether. He aims for equal justice under the law and makes a strong case that the American judicial system continues to miss the mark.
True justice, this is what he is after. A more just fellowship, a kindred faith relationship is what I seek in North American churches. We both have our work cut out for us. We were made for it.
HBO has created a documentary on Stevenson’s work. You can watch it for free right now.