I quoted from Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch Gospel in a previous post and folk asked about Clarence [last name pronounced, "jer' dan"]. Clarence and his wife, Florence, have a most interesting and uplifting story (with some small connections to our humble little church here in Louisville) and he is considered a saint by those of us so inclined. I've borrowed bits of a story by Joyce Hollyday to fill you in.
Enjoy and be inspired.
From an excellent story in:
© Sojourners, December 1979, Vol 8, no 12
by Joyce Hollyday
Florence and Clarence Jordan met at Southern Baptist Seminary in 1933, where he was a student and she the assistant librarian. When they began to consider marriage, Clarence said to her, "If you want to be the wife of a pastor of a First Baptist Church, you don't want to marry me." And he shared with her his plans to go back to the deep South, which was his home, to use his undergraduate agricultural training and "do something for the poor."
Clarence and Martin England, a former American Baptist missionary, found 440 acres of land in Sumter County, near Americus Georgia. Beginning to formulate a vision for a Christian farming community that could be a resource for the rural poor, Clarence and the England family moved there in the fall of 1942. The Jordans' first son was born in September, so Florence stayed with her parents in Louisville and then with Clarence's parents until April, 1943, when the house that Clarence and Martin were building was, in Florence's words, "at least campable."
Florence remembers that the switch from big-city living to "days of cooking on a wood stove, washing in the old iron pot, and carrying water were not easy. The land was a rather desolate-looking place, with some sagging barns, outbuildings, and sheds, one large, unpainted house , and two rundown tenant houses. But we were young and it was an adventure wit the Lord."
They called this adventure Koinonia, from the Greek word which was used to identify the early church in Acts, which pooled its resources and shared the life of Jesus Christ in an atmosphere of reconciliation. This was the model for the fledgling farm. The particular reconciliation that was so desperately needed at this time and place was between black and white. The Koinonians hired a black man, a former sharecropper, to help with the farm. They all ate their meals together, and this breach of Southern tradition brought on the first hostility toward the community.
In a story that has been told many times, Clarence showed the courage and quick wit that became his trademark. A group of men came to the farm. Their spokesman said to Clarence, "We're from the Ku Klux Klan and we don't allow the sun to set on people who eat with niggers."
Clarence glanced over at the western sky and noticed that the sun was creeping low. He thought a bit, swallowed a few times, and suddenly reached out, grabbed the man's hand, and started pumping away, saying , "Why, I just graduated from Southern Baptist Seminary, and they told us there about folks who had power over the sun, but I never hoped to meet one here in Sumter County." They all laughed, and nobody noticed that the sun had slipped down below the horizon.
Despite the hostility of white neighbors, the farm soon became a success. Clarence invented a mobile peanut harvester and established a "cow library," through which poor neighbors could check out a cow for a period of time so that they could have milk. He built a deluxe chicken house that was the envy of the Koinonia wives, whose own houses were austere by comparison. The luxurious chicken quarters were the target of many jokes from the neighbors, but when Clarence began getting more eggs than anybody else, those same neighbors were soon asking him for advice.
Meanwhile, Clarence's reputation as a powerful, uncompromising preacher was growing. As he traveled the country preaching pacifism, social justice, and community, he drew young people to the experiment at Koinonia.
Florence remembers that people who came to visit the farm were always surprised to meet Clarence. They always expected to see an "older, intellectual-type person," rather than this large man who had earned his doctorate when he was 26 years old.
A distinguished professor once came to the farm while Clarence was working on a tractor. The man said, "I wish to speak to Dr. Jordan." Clarence wiped off a greasy hand, extended it, and said, "I am he." The man responded, "No, I wish to speak to Dr. Clarence Jordan." Clarence insisted that he was the one the man was looking for. After repeating his request, the professor finally got in his car and left. A few days later Clarence received a letter from the man, expressing that he was infuriated with the impudent help that Dr. Jordan managed to keep around.
Florence believes that Clarence "was one of those rare persons in whom dreams and practicality came together. He could do everything. He was not only a good farmer, he was a mechanic and an intellectual; he could lay bricks and do electrical work, whatever needed to be done. And he was as good in the kitchen and with the children as I was."
Some of the people who came to visit on the farm stayed. By 1950 the community included 14 adults. They embarked on year of struggle, marked by tension, mixed expectations, and disillusionment. Things moved slowly, every decision was labored, and community living was difficult. The infant community was beginning its arduous growth into tumultuous youth.