One Georgia Farmer’s Experiment in Racial Equality

AP Photo/Roswell Daily Record, Mark Wilson

While Americans fought in WWII and made black citizens use separate, segregated facilities back home, Georgia minister Clarence Jordan paid his black and white workers equal wages on his experimental farm. Jordan founded Koinonia Farm in 1942 as, in his words, a “demonstration plot for the kingdom of God.” He believed all people were created equal, and he wanted to show that while improving the lives of disadvantaged farmers. Naturally, many white people in Sumter County, Georgia pushed back. They refused to buy the farm’s produce, destroyed its equipment, and threatened workers’ lives.

For Topic, Santi Elijah Holley visits the old Sumter County farm, and he recounts its fascinating, progressive history through its decades of struggle and triumph. Amid his reporting, he asks a tough question: can an interracial community driven by religious conviction survive in our racially charged modern climate?

Jordan’s legacy, though less celebrated, has not gone completely unrecognized. This March, Americus and Koinonia are holding the Clarence Jordan Symposium, celebrating the community’s 75th anniversary, with three days of events, workshops, and speeches, centering around Jordan’s teachings of racial equality and nonviolence. The Rylander Theatre is presenting The Cotton Patch Gospel, an award-winning musical based on Jordan’s translations, with music and lyrics written by Harry Chapin in 1981. The hosts of the symposium, First Baptist Church and First Methodist Church, had once prevented Jordan and Koinonia members from attempting to integrate their worship services. Current situation notwithstanding, our cultural identity, including our churches and schools, has, in immeasurable ways, finally caught up to what Clarence Jordan had been preaching, 75 years ago, from a small farm in rural Sumter County, Georgia.

It was a bold stance then, and now. “Faith is not belief in spite of evidence,” Jordan said, “but a life in scorn of the consequences.”

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