Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Clarence Jordan, Part II

In August, the small Rehoboth Baptist Church, where Florence had taught Sunday school and Clarence had led the singing and preached occasionally in the previous eight years, made a move to withdraw fellowship from the Koinonian's because of their racial view.

Florence faced the congregation alone while the others were out of town. She sat quietly in the pew as the recommendation to reject them was read. There was a tense pause. Then Florence got to her feet and moved that the recommendation be accepted as read. The congregation responded with stunned silence, supporting the motion, but unwilling to side with Florence. The Koinonians were eventually excommunicated, but Florence had shown the rare courage that was part of Koinonia from the beginning...

Clarence's aid to two black students in their application to a formerly segregated college in Atlanta was the spark that ignited the hostility. It began with threatening phone calls, grew to vandalism, and finally escalated into life-threatening violence.

Fences were cut, crops stolen from the fields, and garbage dumped on the property. A truck's engine was ruined by sugar placed in its gas tank, and nearly 300 fruit trees were chopped to the ground.

The children faced hostility and abuse in school, and the Jordan family was finally forced to send 14-year old Jim Jordan away to private school.

The farm's roadside market was bombed several times and eventually destroyed. Nightriders sprayed machine-gun bullets at the houses. Fires were set on the property, and crosses were burned on the lawns of black friends.

Several members of the community were called before a grand jury in the spring of 1957, the outcome of which was a report accusing Koinonia of maintaining Communist ties and of self-inflicting the violence for attention and profit. The community was asked to leave the county.

The violence forced the community members to ask difficult questions...

"Sometimes there was shooting two and three times a week, and we knew there was a chance that somebody might be killed...But we said, 'Well, that's okay too. We're not the first Christians who will have died for what we believe, and we won't be the last.'"

"The strange thing was that once we had made that decision, that it really didn't matter whether we lived or died because as Christians we're bought with a price, we're not our own, there was a peace. I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, 'I give you the peace that passes understanding.' It's the kind of thing that all Christians ought to face. But I'm glad they don't have to. But it did do something for us, and so we survived. And no one was seriously injured."

Sumter County residents bolstered their attack with the weapon of economics, hoping to choke the farm's livelihood, since they seemed unable to scare the Koinonians away.

"They formed a real solid boycott. One businessman told us that he was forced to sign at the point of a gun not to sell to us. We couldn't buy gas, fertilizer, or feed. We couldn't sell an egg. For about a year there we didn't make a living. If it had not been for our friends, who voluntarily gave to us, we couldn't have done it."

It was necessity that forced the community into the mail-order pecan business during the boycott. The mail and the open pecan market were two things the local people could not control...

Clarence's plan was a way for the rich to share their resources and for the poor to find new hope and security in their lives. His idea was that the farmers would work together as partners, providing for one another and returning any excess back to the fund so that more land could be purchased for others.

The idea of partnership was carried out in the farming, the pecan industry, and in housing. With Clarence and Millard [Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, which sprung from Koinonia. -dan] working together on the fund raising, money poured in from friends and churches. By this time the farm covered 1,400 acres. Plots of land were sold to area residents at whatever price they could pay. By 1969, the first house had been built. Koinonia Partners was in business.

Clarence lived to see the first house almost completed. On October 29, 1969, at the age of 57, he died.

Millard was unable to convince the coroner or county medical examiner to come to the farm to pronounce Clarence dead: "Even in death, Clarence Jordan was rejected by the high and mighty, by those in authority, in the area in which he lived. But this was not surprising to me, as it never had been to him, because the Bible promises that a prophet is never with honor in his home area."

The medical examiner insisted that Millard rent an ambulance and bring Clarence's body to the hospital. But Millard felt that Clarence would have objected strongly to having money spent on a dead body. "So we loaded the body in the car...I smiled as I went through town with Clarence sitting down. I knew he would have gotten a terrific charge out of that."

I could go on and on, he's such an interesting character and Koinonia's story is so fascinating, but that's enought to whet your appetite. Feel free to read his own writings, or more about his story. For more info about Koinonia Farms and the Jordan's, visit:



Marcguyver said...

Man, I can sure realte to this guy and his wife in the hardships you have to endure in standing up to evil or injustice.

Truly, these two are a couple of Christian Warriors, even if they haven't "taken up the sword" in a literal sense. What a couple of fighters!

Hoots said...

Great story! I never heard that before.
Found your blog today (Jan 12) and almost kept going but came across your reference to Clarence Jordan and knew I had to add you to the aggregator. I'm looking forward to knowing you better. We seem to have a lot in common.
I had the privilege of visiting Koinonia for an overnight trip in 1965 a few months before getting drafted into the Army as a conscientious objector. It's a great memory, as you can imagine. I was able to meet everyone there at the time (Millard Fuller came just after, I think) and I was invited to come to the trailer which Clarence used as an office -- the only air-conditioned space on the property -- where all the adults convened to discuss and give him feedback as he was in the process of composing the Cotton Patch translations.

I'll touch base with you later.