How do we build community, embrace our Baptismal Covenant and dismantle racism together? Read the second in a series of reflections by Dr. Catherine Meeks, chair of Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism. Parish participation, transformation and commitment are gaining traction and national attention.
By Dr. Catherine Meeks
When the Commission decided that an appropriate follow-up to the three years of going to Hayneville, Alabama to remember Jonathan Daniels would be to make pilgrimages across the Diocese of Atlanta to remember those who were martyred through lynching, we did not realize how timely that decision would be.
As a matter of fact, we did not know that Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative was engaged in a lengthy study of lynching in America and would soon be publishing their marvelous abstract highlighting their findings. Along with that work, they were designing a plan to remember the lynched which has led to the founding of a museum memorial.
Also, there are several other major efforts being made to remember those who were enslaved and those who were lynched. Last year the United Nations unveiled “The Ark of Return” its memorial to the millions who were killed and sacrificed during the slave trade. Additionally, the U.N. has declared 2015-2024 as the International Decade for the People of African Descent.
While the Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism is very humbled to have found itself surrounded by such grand actions in this regard, it is exciting to realize that our efforts to imagine the way ahead for ourselves in Georgia and more particularly in the Diocese of Atlanta captures the spirit of the times so magnificently.
Those of you who have been following our work know that we are launching a three-year cycle of memorial pilgrimages to remember those who were lynched in Georgia. There is a record of 538 lynched persons in our state, our initial efforts will be very small given the massive number of folks who need to be remembered. We will begin in Macon this October as we remember the 17 men who were lynched in the Macon and Middle Georgia area. A marker will list their names as well as stating that we are remembering those whose names we do not know, since we realize that there were many who will never be documented.
For the next two years, we will continue this effort as we travel to the Athens area in 2017 and remember the ones killed in the Atlanta area and north of us in 2018. After we conclude this first portion of the work, perhaps we will be able to partner with the Diocese of Georgia and others who wish to complete the task of remembering those who are left when finish the three-year cycle.
Along with the work of remembering that the Memorial Pilgrimage will help to facilitate, it is imperative that we acknowledge the intersection among slavery, lynching, mass incarceration, the death penalty and extra-judicial police killings. We began that work by asking all of our fellow Episcopalians to engage in a study of “Just Mercy” by Attorney Bryan Stevenson who is a death penalty abolitionist. He has been successful in getting over one hundred innocent persons off death row.
The book studies will be highlighted by the evening that will be spent with Attorney Stevenson on September 29, 2016 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. He will be speaking and signing books following his presentation. He is serving as the keynote speaker for the Pilgrimage which will take place on October 22, 2016. There will be a Liturgy for the martyred and the unveiling of the beautiful monument bearing their names which will be placed at the Douglass Theater in Macon. This historic African American owned theater was where the body of one lynched man was thrown in an attempt to terrorize its owner and the larger African American community, thus it seems fitting for its lawn to be the site of the first monument.
As this work continues over the next two years there will be other book studies, along with film screenings and speakers to help in continuing to create deeper levels of consciousness about this part of our history in the hope that more healing will follow. The Commission believes that this complex part of our history stands between our communities and genuine healing and that no lasting dismantling racism work can occur without the healing of the deep wounds caused by these acts of the past that continue to live in the present spirit that supports the continuation of mass incarceration, the death penalty and extra-judicial killings by police .
This work will help to create “brave” spaces where new conversations can be forged and new possibilities for true healing and dismantling racism can be realized and where we can truly see the face of God in all people. Thank you for planning to join us in this worthy journey.