Opinion Columns & Blogs

Caught by surprise

The impact of becoming the leader of 175 or more pilgrims to remember the men who had been lynched in Macon and Middle Georgia surprised me. For the past 18 months, I was deeply immersed in the process of working on the details for the upcoming inaugural memorial pilgrimage to Macon. A day in which we would declare that we remember those 17 men and others who are unknown that were violently taken from their families and friends thorough unlawful acts.

We called their names in the beautiful words of the liturgy that brought us all together in the Douglass Theatre. I am imagining that last Saturday’s service might be the first time the Douglass has had a group celebrating Holy Communion in it and if not, it certainly is the first time that it was being done to remember those who were lynched.

We had witnesses join us from across the country from as far away as California and Massachusetts and as close by as Alabama and Tennessee, and though we were mostly Episcopalians, at least a third of our group was not. Though we have taken this work on in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta in an intentional manner, it was wonderful to have others join us and share in the sacredness of the day.

There were many emotions expressed throughout the day. They ranged from deep sadness to anger and to a sense of numbness. The audience’s willingness to be vulnerable and to allow their responses to the Without Sanctuary Exhibit to be known made me especially grateful that we had planned to make space for conversation following the viewing of the collection of photographs of lynchings.

Our beautiful marker was placed in front of the Douglass because a lynched person’s body was brought to the Douglass and thrown in the foyer with the intention of setting him and the theater on fire. Along with the placement of the marker and all of the other activities, we were honored with the Macon/ Bibb proclamation from the mayor declaring Oct. 22, “Reclaiming the Past Through Remembering Day,” which embodied the title of the day’s program and the spirit of what we had hoped to accomplish. It was a sacred day.

But the surprise came for me a few days following all of the activity. In some ways I marched through the day with much of my attention being focused on the logistics of the day and being concerned about whether others were getting through the day without too much distress. But when I had a chance to really engage the impact of the day upon me, I was stunned. I had not thought about this work being related to my 41 years of living in Macon and the impact of the racial divide upon me.

I was wounded by Macon’s racial divide during those early years when I was refused places to rent because of skin color and when I worked in the local mental health center and was considered by some members of the staff to be second class. And later the experience of working with a person who once refused to go out to lunch when the staff was going out to celebrate because she did not socialize with black folks. She said, “I have to work with blacks, but I don’t have to socialize with them.” Also, I remember the time when I was involved in an automobile accident and a white man who stopped to see what happened walked past my two sons and me in the car to the white woman who hit us and told me later, “he went to check on her because she had children in the car.”

This work brought surprising release to me from the old wounds of being made invisible.

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at kayma53@att.net.