Comments and Reflections on the Love Cemetery Project as related to ETBU and the LFN Small Grant Initiative.
During this academic year the Lilly Fellows Network Small Grant Initiative has allowed many of us to become more aware of continuing and new opportunities related to human rights, reconciliation, restorative justice, and many other related themes.
On Monday, April 7, at the invitation of Professor China Galland, I took part in a mid-day meeting of individuals who would discuss Love Cemetery and the “Writing History Project”—an initiative at Wiley College involving Lisa Taylor. The ongoing Love Cemetery initiative is the subject of Dr. Galland’s book, Love Cemetery: Unburying the Secret History of Slaves (HarperOne, 2008); a documentary film, “Resurrecting Love”, also is in production. The persons present were:
Professor China Galland–Affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, formerly Professor in Residence at the Center for the Arts, Religion, and Education, and occasional adjunct faculty member; author of multiple books; member national Alliance for Truth and Racial Reconciliation.
Mrs. Doris Vittatoe—President of the Love Cemetery Burial Association; from Waskom/Scottsville.
Ms. Cristina Balli—Team Member, Texas Folk Life, Austin.
Mr. Archie L. Rison, Jr.—Cemetery restorer, amateur archaeologist, Nacogdoches, Texas.
Mr. Estrus Tucker—International consultant, speaker, storyteller, poet and master facilitator; board of Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at U/Mississippi; Tarrant County (TX) Workforce Development Board; International Association of Human Rights Agencies Board; the National Center for Courage and Renewal Board; Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and the Brite Divinity School Board of Visitors; ordained minister; Vietnam-era veteran; 2012 recipient, International Association of Human Rights Agencies Individual Achievement Award “for his work and leadership in support of creative civic engagement and transformational leadership in Mississippi; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Cape Town, S. Africa, and Texas. Native and resident of Fort Worth, with three generations before born and resident in Marshall, Texas.
And I, Jerry Summers—The Sam B. Hall Jr. Professor of History, and Dean, School of Humanities, ETBU.
My purpose in attending the discussion session was to honor an invitation that came as a result of East Texas Baptist University’s Lilly Fellows Program Small Grant initiative, “Human Rights, Reconciliation and Restorative Justice: East Texas and the World.” That initiative for the academic year was to give opportunities to evaluate further involvement in or attention to the broader range of human rights issues locally and worldwide. The initiative resonates strongly with the mission and purpose of our university.
The involvement of ETBU in the Love Cemetery cleanup and celebration day in April had begun in the previous academic year when our director of the Great Commission Center, Dr. Melody Maxwell (now at Howard Payne University), had organized student, staff and faculty participation in the event. Wiley College students, including the Wiley College choir, and faculty also participated, along with townspeople and visitors, some who came great distances in order to take part. Others who were responsible at that time are unknown to me. The program was held again on April 5th this year and featured Ysaye Barnwell of Honey in The Rock, the Wiley Choir, students from Wiley and ETBU, and others.
The April 7th meeting about Love Cemetery and the Writing History Program was, in China Galland’s words, to be informal and a discussion of “our work to preserve this fragile, potent history and build a stronger, more resilient community around Love. This 1.6 acre cemetery is emblematic of a history almost lost, paved over or denied all over the United States.”
Our discussion, which was being filmed for possible inclusion in an updated documentary, ran for approximately an hour. My singular impression was that the discussion and the themes it addressed connected vitally with those of the ETBU grant initiative, with the work of many people and organizations on our campus and in the community, and with my own teaching and research.
The efforts surrounding Love Cemetery help us to focus on the theme of past, present and future, where interethnic relations and the need for reconciliation are connected so strongly to our society’s segregated past. An African-American cemetery typically reflects the segregation of black from white both in life and in death. It is the surviving evidence of that segregated past. Yet that same cemetery can be the focus of efforts to remember a broken heritage and to mend relationships among the living descendants of a divided society. The point of Love Cemetery and others like it is that its potential as an instrument to evoke memory and provoke reconciliation is lost if it is inaccessible and forgotten. I need only mention that Love Cemetery is but one emblem of the same problem around the world, where the first tendency is to avoid the pain of remembering and thereby to pass by the prospect of healing.
I should not say much more. The Love Cemetery discussion came during late winter and early spring when several campus and community organizations and churches sponsored programs that emphasized our shared interethnic and faith heritage through traditions, food, music, worship, and community service. Evidently there is considerable good will among and around us. That same good will is and should be gathered and directed toward more comprehensive, intentional acts of caring, attention, reconciliation, and redemption.
Here are some related links:
http://www.etbu.edu/spiritual-development/gcc/ –Great Commission Center
http://www.resurrectinglovemovie.org/ — Wiley and ETBU students at work at Love Cemetery, 2013