Joyce Hollyday is a co-founder and co-pastor of Circle of Mercy, an ecumenical congregation in Asheville, North Carolina. She is the author of several books, including Clothed with the Sun: Biblical Women, Social Justice, and Us and Then Shall Your Light Rise: Spiritual Formation and Social Witness. She was a founding member of Witness for Peace, a grassroots organization committed to nonviolence and led by faith and conscience. She was formerly the Associate Editor for Sojourners.
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An Unfinished Struggle
THE DEDICATION this spring of a memorial in Montgomery, Ala., to the more than 4,400 African Americans who were lynched in this country between the Civil War and World War II has brought renewed national attention to a historical outrage. Melanie Morrison’s Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham reminds us that not all such acts of terrorism and brutality were carried out by white mobs under trees and the cover of darkness. Some were perpetrated in courtrooms in broad daylight.
This meticulously researched book skillfully weaves glimpses of Morrison’s family history into a riveting account of a horrific injustice. On Aug. 4, 1931, three young white women were attacked on a secluded ridge outside Birmingham, Ala. The only survivor, 18-year-old Nell Williams, related that she, her sister, and their friend had been held captive for four hours and “shot by a Negro.” During the largest search party in the county’s history, armed white vigilantes roamed the streets, black businesses were set on fire, African-American men were dragged off trains and out of their beds, with dozens detained, and at least three were murdered.
Glimpses of Hope in the Ruins
ON ELECTION DAY, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Mary Jordan suggested that we may need “a Reconciliation Commission, starting as soon as the results come in—no matter who wins.” In this troubling national moment, stories gleaned from historic truth and reconciliation processes can offer glimpses of hope and guide us forward.
A boy named Free Spirit was only 4 years old when he was wrenched away from his family and forced into a Canadian residential school. A nun gave him a new pair of shoes, which he plunged into a sink filled with water. He was shocked by the beating he received. His Algonquin people always soaked their new moccasins and chewed on them to soften the leather.
Decades later, during Canada’s 2011 Truth and Reconciliation hearings in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Free Spirit joined scores of witnesses who shared their stories of suffering in schools whose purpose was to annihilate their culture. Each evening, all the tissues used to capture the day’s tears were gathered and released into the Sacred Fire that burned outside. There they mingled with ashes that had been carried from previous hearings in other cities.
In the United States, the first large-scale truth and reconciliation process was launched in Greensboro, N.C., in 2005. Its focus was the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, in which members of the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party opened fire on marchers demanding economic and racial justice, killing five and wounding 10.
As the hearings opened, Gorrell Pierce, who was the Grand Dragon of the Federated Knights of the KKK in 1979, strode in with a cadre of young white men. African-American community activist and pastor Nelson Johnson, who was wounded in the attack and lost five of his closest friends that day, immediately stood. He walked across the auditorium and made his way down that row of men, shaking every hand and thanking them for coming. Nelson admitted later that it wasn’t his first impulse, but that as a Christian he knew he needed to bring his best self to that encounter and try to reach out to the best self within Pierce.
From the Archives: May 1982
The Walls Come Tumbling Down
A People's School
Once upon a time, I lived on a farm in the mountains of western North Carolina. I had a garden...of sorts.
Hearts of Stone
With the Eyes of Christ
"From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view....This is from God, who...has given us the ministry of reconciliation."— 2 Corinthians 5:16, 18
Look to the Children
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under...
Fire, Wind, and Water
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