~Reverend Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune is the newly appointed Chief Operating Officer of the National Council of Churches USA. She is also a One America Movement board member. In May, she took part in the same bus tour for racial reconciliation that One America Virginia Coordinator Alden Groves wrote about here. Below are her reflections on the experience.~
By Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune
The morning after returning home from the breaking plantation, I participated in a Racial Reconciliation Bus Tour with an interfaith group of clergy. I wrote this reflection a couple of weeks later to share my experience during the One America Movement’s board meeting, where I gratefully serve as a member.
Is racial reconciliation even possible? This is the question that my weary soul keeps asking and I just don’t have an answer.
I recently spent a day and a half with an interfaith group of clergy on a Racial Reconciliation Bus Tour through the great state of Virginia – a state that was once the home of the capital of the Confederacy. If any place needs a racial reconciliation bus tour, I imagine Virginia tops the list! I had just come from spending a week at a writing retreat with mystic social justice advocates in North Carolina. Perhaps the simplest way to describe a mystic is someone who is sensitive to the presence, movement and work of the Spirit, although that definition is debatable. The writing retreat was at what was called a “breaking” plantation. It was a place where white slave owners sent enslaved African people who had tried to escape to “break” them so that they would never try to run away again. The land was later repurposed to be a school for African Americans after slavery ended. However, signs of the brutality were still there, including a replica of a “Whipping Post” with a sign that ensured you were not confused about what you were looking at. No, this was no stage for a play, standup comedian or other entertainment. It was, in fact, a platform where enslaved people were brutalized and humiliated and where every effort was made to break their spirits.
Clearly, my emotions were still raw from this experience as I set out to do my part for healing our nation from the wounds of the past by engaging in the Racial Reconciliation Bus Tour, just over 12 hours after returning from the breaking plantation. Please do not try this at home.
Perhaps not the best decision I’ve made but I was committed to be present and to engage with other clergy colleagues. The assembled group was a good one from what I could tell with people who brought the right attitude and energy to make space for reconciliation to happen. Conversation was easy for the most part and our commitment to this difficult task was obvious. This helped but reconciliation was (and is) still a steep mountain for me to climb.
My state of mind and spirit are as much a part of my experience as the tour itself. Meticulously planned, the tour delved into the conflicted and tragic past of a place that treated other human beings as property. While I was grateful for a great group of clergy who I felt honored to be among, it was also incredibly hard for me to feel hopeful or optimistic. It was a challenge to be vulnerable with white colleagues again and again when I was feeling as if so much of the reconciliation work has been left up to those who have been victimized. I was struggling to explain how the vestiges of slavery are as much a part of our present as the air we breathe. It is intricately woven into the fabric of our nation, our neighborhoods, our systems, our psyche. And, even though it is as harmful and as deadly as ever we keep trying to repair the shredded pieces with invisible tape that doesn’t hold it together or hide the horrors within it. I wonder in frustration how it is that my white colleagues can’t see that.
*Civil Rights activists Dr. Lawrence [left] and Gloria Campbell [right] share their stories of the Civil Rights Movement in Danville, Va. with us
*Rev. Thurmon Echols helped to host us in Danville and shared his experience fighting for Civil Rights. What an inspiration!
*Rev. Thurmon Echols [far right] being arrested as a teenager in Danville, Va. during the struggle for civil rights
Is reconciliation even possible?
Frankly, these days the cries for reconciliation are drowned out by my weary soul’s cries for justice and repentance and reparations!
Yet, I am a minister of reconciliation! This is what my faith teaches me. This is what my sacred texts tell me. This is what the Spirit reminds me:
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
I don’t feel like the best ambassador for reconciliation on this bus tour. But, something in me will not let me lose hope. I go through each stop waiting with great anticipation for something to break, for something to happen that will mean that this Racial Reconciliation Bus Tour is different from the last one…and the next one. I wait with great anticipation believing that visiting the site of Richard Walker’s lynching will bring me more than pain. I wait with great hope and anticipation trusting that Danville, a city filled with a brutal past , will one day change and be a community where racial transformation can rise from the ashes of hatred and despair. I wait with great hope expecting that this time what will be broken is not the spirits of those who believed in freedom and their own humanity but freedom and humanity, justice and righteousness themselves will break forth!
Praying that racial reconciliation is indeed possible.