Race and Healing
Spirituality Conference with Lerita Coleman Brown
October 26, 2019
What does it mean to be a freed human spirit? Join us for a day journeying through the life and writings of Howard Thurman and dipping into his contemplative practices. We will explore how this mystic and theologian emerged from Baptist beginnings to become a model and teacher of sacred activism. Thurman is known for his classic book, Jesus and the Disinherited, which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., carried with him whenever he marched. Dr. Brown, Ayşe I. Carden Distinguished Professor Emerita of Psychology at Agnes Scott College, is a spiritual director/companion, writer, retreat leader, and speaker.
Cathedral Pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama, August 7, 2019
Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum
From Pam Melton:
“Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice was a divine experience; an expression of art and history so beautiful yet achingly painful.
EJI’s Community Remembrance Project (The Soil Collection): The soil jars called me to them and I desperately wanted to put my hands in the soil. I could sense this soil, in its colorful array as vast as the skin tones of our human race, had absorbed God’s tears as well as the tears of the terrorized. The surrounding trees having born witness to the atrocity. I pray this precious terra will yield over time, life-giving, fertile soil from which hope can grow.
A quote about the soil jars from EJI: “While collecting soil from the site of a lynching is a simple gesture, we believe it is an important act of remembrance that can begin a process of recovery and reconciliation to our history of lynching and terror. The named containers with collected soil that we create become important pieces of our broken and terrifying past. We believe these jars represent the hope of community members who seek racial justice and a greater commitment to the rule of law and human rights.”
From L. Muriel Birchette:
I am writing with deep gratitude, for the kind and generous inclusion of me, and my friend, on the Cathedral of St. Philip pilgrimage to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Legacy Museum. The undertaking was extremely thoughtful from its inception, and in its provision of relevant readings and discussions. On the day of the actual pilgrimage, the extraordinary booklet and the community and fellowship of others contributed substantially to the entire experience. Thank you.
As a 72-year-old black woman born and raised in the segregated South, and having lived for several decades in the segregated Northeast, I am directly, and through family and friends, personally acquainted with the injustice and degradation of racial discrimination. I have also been long aware of the terrible plight of slaves, and of blacks/"coloreds" during and after Reconstruction. However, I had the sheer good fortune to be raised in a middle-class family, with parents who shielded me and my siblings from much of the physical suffering and direct abuse of the heinous system of racial apartheid.
The pilgrimage to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum was for me a means to deeply contemplate my strong belief in Divine Love, and the Suffering of Christ in each one of us, every day, and at all times. I STILL do not understand how a Loving Creator can allow such cruel and vicious mistreatment of ANY of His children, and to permit such evil devastation to continue to the present day.
However, I am now, more than ever, convinced of the enormity of the Profound Love of Christ Emmanuel "With us." I can better appreciate HIS AMAZING GRACE. I am fully determined to do whatever I can, in working for peace and justice.
From Patti Carson Parker:
Experienced a powerful day yesterday as I went on a pilgrimage with my church to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery. To say I was touched by this experience does not nearly express what I felt as I walked through the names and dates of the hundreds of men and women who were lynched in the late 1800s though the 1950s. Reading the names was powerful, reading the reasons for the lynchings was painful. The museum had a whole wall of actual signs and plaques that hung in businesses - "Whites Only," "Negroes use Back Door," "No Negroes or Apes," etc., etc. I remember those signs. I remember going to town with my dear Ida Lee and riding in the back of the bus with her. I remember us not being able to get an ice cream at Woolworth's counter, I remember having to use the "Colored" restroom with her. Lots of other memories that pierce my heart today, but she was happy. She knew she was loved and taken care of. But did we do enough for her and her family, friends, neighbors? My humble prayer is that all those people whose names I read yesterday are resting happily in the arms of those they loved and that they somehow know how many tears are shed for them daily. It is important to throw away all prejudices, embrace our brothers and sisters with love and compassion, and walk as an example of peace, kindness and grace.
From Sarah duBignon:
I was going to this memorial when it opened with a group from Boys and Girls Clubs. But I had just be diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency and was told I should not go. I watched the documentary but it is not the same as being there so when the Cathedral offered this pilgrimage it was like an answer to a prayer. I wanted to be there in person and pray as I stood among the columns that the victims were at peace and that hatred of the other would finally cease. As I stood there praying a gentle breeze lifted my spirits I thanked God for hearing my prayers. I was amazed and horrified at the numbers and that Georgia has so many lynchings even though I already knew that information actually standing there made it more real. I had a friend who was a freedom rider and one who was a black panther and I was recruited by Austin Ford so I knew a lot about the civil rights movement. One thing I am trying to work on is not to hate anyone. I read Richard Rohr and he is always stressing that point but I have trouble with bigots. As we all say on Palm Sunday, "crucify Him," we are all capable of joining the mob so I should not judge but I do.
All of the above is why we go pilgrimages to find our way to God peace and repentance. Thanks for the opportunity.
From Barbara Pendergrast:
I am still processing and finding my SC grounding around slavery, and in particular, the lynching narrative and the lack of deep intersection of it with my personal narrative. I realize I need to “start where I am,” but the magnitude of missing the depth of the narrative that silently surrounded me as a child, growing up three blocks from the Old Slave Market, in Charleston, SC breaks me open in ways that I believe I am not fully aware of yet. I will go back “home" (SC) in a different and more conscious way now than I ever have been before.
From Cheryl Mullins:
It is said that a Pilgrim always goes in search of something, and this was true of my Pilgrimage to Montgomery.
In my search I found:
The reproach of orderly, endless rows of markers ~
The sorrow of today’s witnesses, fingertips lingering to caress engraving ~
The irony of the names of the lynched . . . Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln ~
The benediction of waterfall for those whose names will never be known ~
The vigor of Toni Morrison’s plea to “Love your heart,” hours after her death ~
The comfort of Cathy, Thee and my fellow Pilgrims through a difficult day ~
The challenge of a rector’s question: What is my pilgrimage from today forward?
From Harris Allen:
Our trip to Montgomery this past Wednesday enabled my second visit to both the Memorial and the Museum. My first had been this past April, capping a six-week course led by Dr. Catherine Meeks that focused on Cone’s “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.”
For me, these last four months have been about a deepening process of examination and reflection. They have been characterized by a revisiting of my roots and upbringing, a grappling with the sins of the culture in which my forbears were immersed, and a striving to sort out how I am to relate to the legacies of that culture in the here and now.
What is clear is that I remain a work in progress who has embarked down a new path that itself is a shift of at least a few degrees relative to what I was about before. New seeds have been planted alongside a re-found sense that I am not bound by history, that I can choose to act with intention, to not repeat but to build anew.
I am determined to continue cultivating a spirit of openness, both in myself and in my relationships with others, especially when in the presence of difference … to not engage in the disregard and disrespect that are the hallmarks of racism’s straightjacket but, rather, to connect with and build on new possibilities that arise from just the opposite.
How to bring this to the center of what I am about and to make it real in how I act and with whom I interact – these are tasks that lie ahead as I move forward with gratitude for a new sense of freedom that has emerged during this period.
From Trish Lewis:
Expected: I knew the memorial would be upsetting since I’d seen some tv coverage about it when it opened. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Legacy Museum. I hoped that it would demonstrate how race relations have improved but I didn’t leave there with a feeling of optimism.
Met expectations: in that it was disturbing and caused me contemplate how our society ever became so unrighteous. It’s impossible to understand how the descendants from our country’s founders could condone such behavior, or simply look the other way. What role did religious groups have during this time? Groups were being persecuted for their beliefs in Europe and across the globe, yet the behavior in the American south was eerily similar and continued, simply due to skin color.
Surprised by: how many memorials there were and especially by how recent (some into the late 1940s). To think that some of these victims could have served our country in WW II, only to return home to face discrimination and/or be lynched is a horrible thought. I was surprised by my own thoughts of shame, sadness and guilt. I knew it would be painful but I did not expect it to have such an impact upon me.
I learned: more specifics of southern history and racism. I was shocked by the mass incarceration exhibits and statistics. The cycle continues; the statistics for black males are very discouraging regarding incarceration. They seem to be targeted in all aspects of the justice system (police patrols, unfair trials and sentences) as well as other parts of society.
I felt: outraged that society would allow such acts upon another human. I felt ashamed that this happened, even though I wasn’t alive at the time. I recognize that it still continues, in a different way. As a lifelong southerner from many generations back it makes me embarrassed. It’s very easy to understand why so many people from outside the south consider us to be “backwards” due to our history of race relations.
I think that it’s very important for our youth and future generations to experience it, similar to Holocaust memorials. We have to teach them that hate accomplishes nothing and we never want to regress to that period of our history. Unfortunately some of the current rhetoric from our politicians contains racist comments, which defeats our attempts to reconcile with the past and move ahead. This behavior must end and anyone who publicly speaks out this way should be held accountable.
From Dorsey DeLong:
The memorial felt like it grew 10 times its size as we approached it. I walked on the perimeter for many yards, completely overcome. I was afraid to enter and hesitant to feel. Upon entering, the tears came. My anxiety increased walking along the wall of Alabama counties - familiar place after place and reading name after name. Counties where I have spent time and played and had fellowship. Each familiar place was a punch in the gut, another knot, another lump. My heart raced as I spied my home county and the lone name that stood there. A new word easily came to mind as the one I should have thought of on the bus. My purpose for the day should have been and quickly changed to "remember". To remember these names, these people, their families. Especially those families whose last name was listed in multiples on some of the pillars. Walking through the replicas outside, it was too easy to spot the dates - my children's birthday, my birthday, a day close to now. One county with two columns of unknown people who all died within two days. Undone.
In retrospect, the memorial itself was built so that we walked level with the structures in the beginning, but then the sidewalk sloped and the ramp went deeper - gradually but very evident until we were immersed with them and ultimately they rose higher and higher above us, although we were still standing in the depths. What an image.
When I googled Bunk Richardson and also began to follow the EJI instagram, I breathed a sigh of relief when I found that Gadsden has erected a memorial marker at the site of his lynching. I plan to visit it when I get back there. Such a long way to go. So many counties, so many names, so much damage. But I am eternally grateful to have at least begun the journey in the better direction.
The lump has returned as I have just typed this again.
From Jeff Bonnell:
A “holy trip to a holy place for something greater than us –
In community.” *
Happy bus ride. Lively chatter.
Meeting new friends and long-time old ones.
Large group; individual experiences.
National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
Open air, but yet confining.
Lynchings in America.
Individual names and lynching dates.
Georgia. Mississippi. Alabama.
Virginia. Kentucky. Ohio.
Missouri. Nevada. And more.
Listed by County:
Some single names and dates. Then
Fulton County with 25 on a single day. Murder.
Large columns. Rang like bells.
Tolling each name in reverence.
Grounded. Yet flying.
Sloping downward with troubling markers:
“After Calvin Mills voted in Calhoun County, Georgia, in 1884,
A white mob attacked and burned his house, lynching his elderly mother
And two young daughters, Emma and Lillie.”
Then open air.
And slaves chained together.
And a baby in mother’s arms. Life-size all.
Welcoming verdant lush grass;
Time to soak in the hot sun and
Cleanse away my guilt.
So many names – never to be forgotten.
Refreshing lunch with new friends;
St. Mark’s congenial hosts
Though Celebrant’s back is to the People.
Legacy Museum. Site
Of slave prison.
Difficult to Let. That. Sink In.
Bold history of terrorism right here in Montgomery.
Blocks from the river docks. And
Men, women, and children
Sold to the highest bidder.
Small space. Visual overload.
Too many statistics and facts I can’t remember.
Gnaw in the pit of my stomach; growing pain in my temples.
Real people. Blacks and whites.
Whites ruling supreme – even after the
Freedom? Hardly. Slaves again.
Legalized racial segregation.
Shamed to be a white male.
History. A horrendous part of America’s.
Scary. But history is repeating itself again.
The Cross will never look the same again.
*The Reverend Doctor Thee Smith, as we were about to board the bus to Montgomery.