I am a priest in the Orthodox Church in America. My parish, Theotokos "Unexpected Joy" is in Ash Grove, Missouri, where I live on a farm owned by my family since 1872. I blog on matters to Orthodox Christianity, African American history in the Ozarks, race relations in general.
This is Frank Coker, who was related to me on my mother’s side and also by marriage – double kinfolks. On Good Friday in 1906, on the main square in Springfield, MO, just before midnight, he was hung from a light tower, along with two other young Black men. 5,000 White people watched as the bodies were burned and shot at. All of this because of a rape allegation later proven to be false.
Terror reigned after the lynchings throughout the African American community in Springfield and Greene County. An angry mob set out to wreak havoc. Wallace White, my great grandfather, lived in Cave Springs, MO, which is along present day Hwy 160 and Rte. 123, 9.5 miles from my home. Wallace had been with the Missouri 5th cavalry, which fought at Vicksburg, The unit was made up of men and boys (Wallace was 15) from Ash Grove , Walnut Grove and the surrounding areas. When the mob neared Wallace White’s cabin, it was met by a line of his fellow men in arms from the Civil War, rifles fully loaded. The threat was real enough to turn the mob away.
Top: Wallace White’s cabin. Bottom: Wallace and Daisy White outside their canebrake, Cave Springs
Although both sides were willing to defend their position with force, I would never say that both sides had equal responsibility for the potential violence. Sometimes, we stand up for the right, and there is a difference between right and wrong. These Civil War veterans’ methods were somewhat flawed, but their intention was to be their brother’s keeper.
This pinwheel quilt belonged to Caroline Boone’s mother, Maria Boone, who was my great great grandmother. Her grave is in our family cemetery.
Caroline was Daniel Boone’s granddaughter, and Nathan Boone’s daughter.
This quilt top dates from the early 19th century. It’s made of silk and waxed cotton. It’s remained in my family trunk for many decades, preserved for succeeding generations.
In 2003, I created a museum of my family’s artifacts, along with others given to me: the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum. In 2013, my daughter Dorothy, an archivist specializing in African American studies, created an on-line version, which you can visit here: OAAHM
Someone once asked me about this Kente cloth I use in the church. They remarked that it wasn’t usual for Orthodox temples. I said, “Oh, do you think I should use something more traditionally European, like a paisley print?” “Yes,” they replied, “that would be more in line with the Tradition.” Then I went on, “you do know that paisley was likely a Zoroastrian-inspired design. So you’d rather go with the Zoroastrians than to accept a pattern that may be somewhat unfamiliar to you.”
Sometimes when we reject something that is not from our familiar culture, the objection isn’t because it isn’t proper, but only that it’s foreign to us.
This cloth is probably over 100 years old, It’s handwoven, from Ghana in West Africa. Sometimes it’s usedd as an analogion covering in my church.
I was raised in the Church with the idea that one planted good seeds and trusted that they’d bear fruit. That fruit, however, might not ripen for a while, or even in my lifetime.
Years ago, when we began restoring the historic cemetery on my family’s long-held property, a group of Mennonites came to one of our events there. They’ve just recently been received as Western-rite Orthodox. I didn’t know about their journey, but I recognize that a seed was planted and nurtured, way back then, when we stood amongst the graves and talked about life eternal in Christ.
I have built up the cemetery, gone around the country and spoken at seminaries and gatherings of all kinds, established a small history museum, and founded a parish. None of these evangelical efforts were made alone. In all cases, it took at least two, myself and my wife, Magdalena, to agree on the task at hand, acknowledging that the work was Godly.
The seeds I plant come from the fruit (as seeds do) of our gathering – an ongoing contemplation at the kitchen table.
My family has always celebrated the “Negro Emancipation Day” – that Saturday in June which falls in the middle of the month, commemorating the day on which slaves in Texas were told they were free.
This year, I celebrated Juneteenth by joining with neighbors, parishioners, and fellow clergy in blessing a beautiful new memorial stone donated to us by Andrew Baird, President, Conco Companies. This large stone, made of local marble, lists all those buried in the Berry Cemetery (now consecrated as Holy Resurrection Cemetery) who don’t have headstones. Our cemetery was dedicated in 1875 for the burial of “Slaves, Paupers and Indians,” none of whom could be buried in the town cemetery at the time and is on the National Register of Historic Places.