Breaking the Southern Partition
by Monica Uwajeh 8/12/2007 / Short Stories
One day, Pastor Christopher Smith was having his evening devotions in his bedroom the small town of Blue Bell, Georgia. He read Ephesians 2:14 in the King James Version. The words "Hath broken down the partition" captured him like the mid-summer sunset. Suddenly, he heard the voice of his father blaring like a megaphone in his head. It was as if he were calling to him from somewhere far beyond the two acres of farmland next to the parsonage Pastor Smith now called home.
Ten years earlier, as summer faded into fall, and young Christopher readied himself to leave his parents' farm for seminary. His father called to him.
"Son, would you come in the barn for a second?" He asked.
"Yes, Dad," the son said determined only God would know his hatred and dread of barn chores.
However, when Christopher came in, his dad said in his typical husky Southern drawl, "Don't worry, Son, I don't want you to do any barn chores. I just wanna have a little talk before you go. I just want you to remember that your name means Christ bearer.1 When your mama had you, the Lord spoke to her heart saying he had a special work for you."
Now Pastor Christopher Smith heard those last two sentences once again.
"Why now, Lord?" He asked. "Why bring that back to me now?"
Then his wife Maranda came in and crawled in bed beside him. She noticed him staring at his Bible.
"Everything all right, sweetheart?" She said.
"Yeah, Honey it's just something between me and the Lord," he said
She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and thought oh great, he's gonna be tossing and turning all night.
It wasn't quite all night. At 3 a.m., he said, "Praise the Lord," with such boyish exuberance that Maranda sat upright right as if she had heard a loud crash from another room.
"What in the world is going on in that head of yours that you gotta shout at this hour?" She said.
"The Lord just told me to go to the black church down the street this Sunday," Pastor Smith said.
"If you do that, you may as well just hand in your resignation now and give up preaching 'cause no white church in Georgia gonna hire any preacher who wouldn't be caught dead worshiping at that church," Maranda said "Don't ya' know their right into that Civil Rights Movement?"
"Pastor Stephens is right capable of taking over."
"Sweetheart, I think you're forgetting something. He might want to join us."
"Somehow I don't think so."
"I don't know he just might. Anyway, can we talk about this later?"
Six hours later, Maranda looked over and saw her husband's side of the bed was already empty. She got up and found a note on their front door. "Went to resign from the church. " Meanwhile, as Pastor Christopher Smith made the short stroll from the parsonage and noticed a for sale sign at the farm next door.
First some reason, he prayed, "Lord, let us have that farm."
When Pastor Smith went in the church to resign, he simply told the deacons that he was going into farming. The opposition would come soon enough. As he went down the hall, he saw Pastor Stephens.
"Greg, how would you like to move into the parsonage?" He said.
"What?" Greg said in an exaggerated Southern drawl. Are you leaving us?
Since the office was in earshot, Christopher Smith leaned in to whisper in his friend's ear, "The Lord showed me I should get a farm and use it to reconcile us to the Negroes."
He whispered something else. Greg shook his head and then whispered, "If you need any help let me know. I'll find a way to get you some without the deacons knowing.
The two friends parted ways and the now ex-Pastor and went home and told his wife the rest of the plan. If this weren't shocking enough, he asked her to pray for him.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Christopher said. "It's not like I've never asked for your help before."
Maranda just shook her head. Just then the phone rang. It was Chuck Johnson, the owner of the farm down the street and loyal church member.
"Pastor, the Lord told me to give you this farm and all the equipment too."
Even after the call ended, Christopher didn't hang up the phone. He just stood there holding it away from his face.
"Honey, what's going on?" His wife said.
"He's giving us the farm," he said with his voice strained and his eyes squinted as he finally put down the phone.
Sunday came and Pastor Marvin Keystone stood at the door of his church ready to greet guests and visitors. He had no ill will toward white folks, but the sight of a white coupleespecially one like Pastor and Mrs. Smith entering his church was like an interracial couple walking through town together in broad daylight.
"Morning, Pastor Keystone," Christopher said.
"Morning, Pastor Smith," he said as if he were playing revelry on a bass trumpet.
"Please, Sir, call me Christopher.
Pastor Keystone stared at Christopher, and tears trickled from his eyes as if they were faucets with slight leaks in them. Then someone came up behind the pastor and reminded him it was time to start the service. Christopher and Maranda followed him and his parishioner inside and sat in the first empty pew they could find. Them at why began singing "Somebody's Knocking at Your Door" with the brightness of a jazz saxophone and the richness of a piano. Soon everyone began swaying and clapping in the pews, including the white visitors. Although he was a strict evangelical, the former pastor always thought that Negro spirituals had elements the white church needed to incorporatenamely passion. He loved the old hymns like "Amazing Grace" but there seemed a depth of conviction in the voices, which comprised in this choir that seemed lacking in the voices of the choir at his former church.
Beyond the songs, however, the rest of the service made Christopher squirm a bit. He just wasn't used to a congregation exhorting their pastor during a sermon. He'd heard how things were done at a black church, but he's still wasn't prepared to hear people repeating the pastor's words as if that war a political rally for a popular candidate. This wouldn't be something that would keep me from coming back but I see how it would offend some who cling to the false gentility of the South.
After the service, Pastor Keystone ran up to Christopher from the pulpit.
"Sorry about the way I greeted you earlier," he said.
"It's okay, Brother Marvin," Christopher said. "It is okay for me to call you that, isn't it?"
Pastor Keystone began to cry again. This time his guests noticed it.
"What's wrong, Pastor?" Maranda asked.
"Nothing, Ma'am", he said.
Christopher gave his wife a tap on the shoulder. Then switched the tact of the conversation.
"Do any of your parishioners own farms?" He said.
"Most of 'em are sharecroppers, Pastor Keystone said. "But we got some with their own too."
"May I have some of their addresses?" I just got my own farm, and it would really help me out. My daddy was a farmer, so I know some of the basics. But I have no idea what crops go for these days."
"Wouldn't you be better off asking a white farmer?" The pastor said in a southern accent.
"I wanna sell vegetables to everyone," said Christopher.
"That's mighty noble of you, Pastor Keystone declared. "But the white farmers make more money."
"But some Negroes might not be able to afford the prices the white farmers charge."
"You got that right. Step into my office. I'll get you those addresses."
After the pastor gave Christopher the addresses, he went out looking for the farms. He should have expected it, but still he was surprised when all the farms he passed had chipped paint, rusted out siding or both. Just 'cause they own their own farms doesn't mean they're going to be as nice ours, especially not in the South. Maybe Greg could get me some paint.
Even though most of Pastor Keystone's parishioners were pretty open-minded, the first three farmers Christopher visited slammed the door in his face. He couldn't blame them for being suspicious. Finally, he found his way to the farm of Joe and Grace Ann Brown. When he pulled in the small driveway, he noticed a man, whom he would soon discover was Joe, carrying in some cucumbers from the small vegetable garden. He knocked on the door. The woman answered, expecting her husband. At the sight of the white stranger, she fell back as though grazed by a gun.
"Ma'am, you got nothing to fear from us," Christopher said.
"That's right," said Maranda. "My husband just wants to do business with your husband."
Something in her voice put the woman at ease and she said, "I'm Grace Ann, what's your name?"
"I'm Maranda, and this is my husband Christopher."
"Would y'all like to come in and have something to drink? I'm sure we don't have anything like you're used to. But what we do have, we'll be more than happy to give you."
"That's mighty kind day of you folks."
The three of them stepped inside. Joel lagged behind carrying an armload of cucumbers. When Joe came near the door, Maranda began to open her mouth, but before she could say a word, Christopher leapt from his seat. He sprinted to the door.
"May I help you with some of that?" He said when Joe came in.
Joe was so startled he almost dropped the entire load to the floor. But Christopher somehow got his arms in position to catch it.
"Thanks for the help, Sir," Joe said.
"I was hoping we might be able to help each other today," Christopher said. I'm starting up a farm, and there was wondering how much things go for. And I was also wondering, whether you'd be going let me paint your house till I can get my arm up and running."
"Veggies like this go for twenty cents a piece. Everything else goes for thirty. Otherwise no one 'round here could afford it. So we can't afford to pay you that much. "
"That's okay, I'll take as many odd jobs as all ya 'all will give me."
"That's good, " Grace Ann said. "Joe sure could use the help. The neighborhood needs a lot of fixin'."
"Maybe after you I get started, I can ask some members of my old church to come help us," Christopher said to Joe.
"No offense." But keep dreaming," Joe said.
"I've got a better idea," Christopher said. "You, me, and the wives are gonna keep praying."
"What are you, some kind of white Dr. King?"
"No, he's got wonderful ideas. But I'm just someone God called to reconcile His people."
The next day, Christopher and Joe went out to fix houses. The best they could do was paint them and start nailing some old clapboard to them. As they saw how hard this white man worked on their behalf, the neighborhoods folks began to trust Christopher. He bounded out Joe was one of the blessed farmers in their little town. The rest of them felt they could only charge fifteen cents a piece for veggies and twenty for everything else. They explained was the only way only way they could sell to white folks who traveled through.
When the ex-pastor heard this, he said, "When I get my farm up and running, why don't you bring your produce and other products to my farm, and I'll sell them for a fair wage and give you all the money."
The community agreed.
A year later, Christopher was selling goods from his farm. The Negro farmers had more money and their farms had fresh coats of paint. But no progress had been made toward the real goal. Then one morning he remembered Pastor Greg Stephens's promise to help if ever needed, so he called him and told him to ask some of the congregation to donate siding and the rest to buy their eggs, milk, and produce from the farms of the disadvantaged.
On Monday morning, Pastor Greg wrote Christopher a note. The note said I've got good news and bad news. Some of us are gonna come help you. But the deacons are on to us out of the church. Don't expect much.
The next Sunday about ten members of Christopher's former church showed up with siding for two houses. Joe, Grace Ann, and a few other neighborhood folks who went come to trust the ex-pastor came out to greet them. They started working after lunch and worked until about five, stopping only for drinks. Then Grace Ann said, "Look, all ya'all have worked very hard today. What I don't fix us some supper?
About an hour later, everyone was sitting down, as some extra tables were brought to Joe and Grace Ann's to accommodate the company. Joe said grace. Then the room was abuzz with laughter and talk as the women exchanged recipes and the men told jokes.
Christopher still had a lot of work to do. He may never get it done. But at least the Southern partition had begun to crack.
My name is Monica Uwajeh. I usually write short stories and poetry. However, I recently felt led to write this devotional. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org