On March 28-31, Ryan Landino, Liz Kanerva, and Joy Myers all attended a pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama. They are so grateful for the opportunity to have experiences like this where they can be enriched in our work together!
What was this experience, and who went with you?
Liz: “Last year, a group of PC(USA) Mid Council leaders caught the vision to organize a pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama to visit and explore The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Ryan, Joy, and I quickly determined that this opportunity is one we should take advantage of as staff. In the ensuing months, participants gathered via zoom to prepare for this pilgrimage through group building, fellowship, and reading together What Kind of Christianity: A History of Slavery and Anti-Black Racism in the Presbyterian Church by Dr. William Yoo. But in the end, while one can prepare, one is never really prepared for what turned out to be a powerful experience for us as individuals and as a group.”
Why was it important for you to go?
Joy: “As a member of the staff of the presbytery that submitted the “Apology to our African-American sisters and brothers for the sin of slavery and its legacy” to General Assembly, I felt I needed to experience some of what encouraged the group to write the apology in the first place. There have been changes to the museum and memorial made since the group traveled to Montgomery, AL. It is now an even more compelling vision into the journey that was forced on those enslaved people who had no choice. I felt I needed to experience something of what the original group in our presbytery experienced and why they came back from their trip so fired up about what they had seen.”
Ryan: “In 2018, I visited the Museum and Memorial as a member of the PC(USA) Special Committee on Racism Truth and Reconciliation. That grounded us as a team and served as the launching pad into our work. When I came to this presbytery, I learned that DRAWP (Dismantling Racism and White Privilege Team) had a similar experience that launched the apology overture. Now that we ended that particular phase, we look at how can we keep momentum going and create even more on-ramps into the next phase of moving “From Apology to Action.” It was important to me to revisit this space with my colleagues Liz and Joy so that I could reconnect with that experience with you on my heart, and use that as an opportunity to connect more closely with you and the work of this presbytery, grounding ourselves in what our next movements might look like.”
Liz: “What first captured me about the opportunity to travel to Montgomery was the word “pilgrimage.” Any number of words could have been used to describe a group travel event. But pilgrimage suggests something more than simply participating as a tourist. A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self and others. It can lead to a personal transformation. I am a firm believer that transformation is deeply rooted in one’s ability to know one’s history in all its complexity: the good and the bad; the beautiful and the ugly. As white Americans it is on us to remember and confess our sinful history of chattel slavery and its ramifications that continue to besiege our communities and this country.
What was most impactful or meaningful to you?
Joy: “I was emotionally overcome as I walked through the museum. The earliest years captured my heart and truly impacted me emotionally. It is one thing to listen to white interpretations of history and quite another to be impacted by the three-dimensional figures and videos in the museum. To walk through the memorial and to look at the names of counties near where I have lived or have relatives living and to read the reasons why people were lynched was bone-chilling. I was embarrassed and angry all at the same time. I prayed often as I walked through the memorial. It was both troublesome and encouraging to debrief with other Mid-Council leadership.”
Liz: “I think of myself as well educated when it comes to our history of segregation, but as always I learned something new. Walking through the museum I appreciated the displays of posters, signs and other ephemera depicting the Jim Crow laws which shaped the everyday lives of African Americans, but they were familiar to me from history books and other similar displays I’ve viewed. However, something new to me captured my attention. Placed among the posters, were newspapers, typically the front page, with bold graphic lynching headlines. When I think about the purpose of newspapers, they are for the purpose of reporting on events that have already taken place. So, when I first read the lynching headline, shocking as that is, it took me a moment to realize the headline was announcing that a lynching will take place at this time and at this location. The newspaper was actively participating in the lynching rallying the mob. I’m still thinking this through and I hear the echo of the mob shouting, “Crucify him.”
Ryan: “I was coming off of a fresh reading of William Yoo’s “What Kind of Christianity: A History of Slavery and Anti-Black Racism in the Presbyterian Church” (which was required reading for the pilgrimage) and carrying that reading with me into the vivid experience of the museum. In spite of how racial terror was committed right in front of the eyes of the church, we still would not challenge the economic, theological, and moral stances that preserved human trafficking. What impacted me the most was the recognition of certain patterns today: banning talking or learning about it, using the Scriptures to justify injustices, pretending we would have taken the positions then that we do now, thinking that Americans have a moral leg up on all other countries when we would not listen to our Reformed Scottish partners on the immortality of slavery, etc. The same echoes remain. Unpacking that experience in community together was so valuable, especially when it was revealed we had a colleague with us on the pilgrimage who had a family member’s name enshrined on a lynching memorial, while another whose ancestor was mentioned in the book as an influential proponent of slavery.”
How does this experience build on the pilgrimage taken by the presbytery to the same site in 2019?
Joy: “I remember many of those who traveled on the presbytery pilgrimage taking a while after they came back from that trip to really talk about what they saw and what they experienced. I understand that better now. The trip is large…it is emotional…it is angering because this is not the history I learned in school…it is frustrating because the racist activity still persists… It doesn’t just happen over there or in some larger context…it happens every day and in ways so subtle that many don’t pick up on the prejudice that is being perpetuated.
I am thankful for those who traveled this road before I did. I am grateful for their insight and their persistence. I am honored that they took the initiative and wrote the paper that they did. It was a beginning…their trip was entitled “On The Road to Reconciliation” I certainly hope that we are advancing on that road… How did people survive on that original road and continue to strive to survive
2nd Corinthians 5:18 “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Godself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” May it be so…”
What are some opportunities for next steps?
Ryan: “Joy, Liz, and I sat down together and brainstormed some possibilities for where we can go from here. We lift these up to you as options that we might want to explore together:
- Identify and document sundown towns. The late Jim Loewen has done amazing work around naming where Black and African American refugees fleeing racial terror were warned not to stay after dark in any given community. Dr. Loewen had a belief that churches could help today chronicle the living memory of the existent of sundown towns, and we could be a part of that project! https://justice.tougaloo.edu/location/missouri/
- Identity local lynching sites that have been documented by the Equal Justice Initiative, or connect them to undocumented victims and sites that remain unrecognized
- Return to Montgomery, AL for a second opportunity for a pilgrimage for those who could not attend the experience the first time.
- Interview and record stories of the experience of racism in our communities
- Join the History Team to learn more about the history of the underground railroad and how our churches responded to their awareness of it, as well as other bus trips they arrange as we bond together as a learning and growing community.
- Curate a list of local agencies, coalitions, and projects who are working for racial justice that we could enter into partnership with
- Connect with the descendants of enslaved persons who have graves in our church cemeteries.
- Possibly visit the Delmar Divine as a presbytery gathering site to learn more about red-lining in St. Louis and its impact
- Follow the lead of DRAWP as they focus efforts to RELATE, EDUCATE, and ADVOCATE within our presbytery community
These are simply some ideas. Others have been made and we want to continue to keep our energy and momentum forward. We welcome the opportunity to see where your energy is in taking next steps!
Yours in service,
Ryan, Liz, and Joy