‘Race relations’ & 'racial reconciliation' were subjects of conversation on Aug. 30 at Alex Haley Museum in Henning, Tenn.; repeat event is planned for Sept. 27


The Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church is partnering with the Alex Haley Museum & Interpretive Center in Henning, Tenn., to offer private showings of the museum's exhibit “Slaves and Slave Holders of Wessyngton Plantation" on Sunday, Aug. 30, and Sunday, Sept. 27. Both offerings also include a panel presentation and small group conversations about race relations. Click on link above left to see more photos like those above from the Aug. 30 event. (Photos by Lane Gardner Camp)

CLICK HERE to view more photos from Aug. 30 event.
CLICK HERE to view photos from Sept. 27 event.

Article and Photos By Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications
“We can’t change the past, but we can start today to change the future.”
That was one of many thoughts shared by eight small discussion groups on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 30, at the Alex Haley Museum & Interpretive Center in Henning, Tenn.
The museum is partnering with the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church to offer two private showings of the museum’s exhibit “Slaves and Slaveholders of Wessyngton Plantation,” the first on Aug. 30 and one more on Sunday, Sept. 27. (Scroll down to near end of this article for details on Sept. 27 event.)
The Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church covers West Tennessee and Western Kentucky.
A panel presentation and small group conversations about race relations were part of the Aug. 30 event and will be part of the repeat event on Sunday, Sept. 27.
Charlotte Ammons, a member of the witness and worship team at Ripley First UMC in Ripley, Tenn., was among those in attendance on Aug. 30 and said she plans to attend again on Sept. 27, calling it a “most worthwhile cause.”
“How could anyone come away and not think they gained a tremendous amount of understanding of our differences/similarities and a great appreciation for both?” she asked following the Aug. 30 event.
James Ellington, certified lay servant minister and lay leader of Lester’s Chapel UMC in Jackson, Tenn., as well as vice president of mission and outreach of his district’s United Methodist Men, said about the Aug. 30 event that he was “so glad” to have participated, that he enjoyed the tour and exhibit and was “so proud of everyone who made the effort (to attend).”
“Slaves and Slave Holders of Wessyngton Plantation” looks at the lives of enslaved African Americans and their white owners on the 13,000-acre plantation in Robertson County, Tennessee (north central Tennessee on the Kentucky border) before, during and after the Civil War.
The opportunity for the private showings of the exhibit at the Lauderdale County museum grew out of conversations with museum staff by Rev. James Luvene, pastor of Hughlett, Lighthouse and Ross UMCs in the Mississippi River District of the Memphis Conference.
For more information about the exhibit, visit www.alexhaleymuseum.org  and  www.wessyngton.com or email/call the museum at alexhaleymuseum@bellsouth.net or (731) 738-2240.
Luvene joined with Rev. Dr. Joe Geary, Memphis Conference director of connectional ministries, to plan presentations and conversation about race relations and racial reconciliation, in conjuction with the exhibit.
Geary and Luvene believe the free exhibit and organized conversations fit well with a current Memphis Conference initiative to help churches address racial prejudice and hatred. Piloting that work is Linda Warren Seely, Memphis Conference “Peace With Justice” advocate and a member of Jackson First UMC in Jackson, Tenn.
Working with Geary, Seely launched the initiative in response to the race-motivated murders of nine African American Christians in Charleston, S.C. in June.  Click here to read more about Seely’s initiative.
Aug. 30 panelists included Seely, Luvene, Geary and Rev. Dr. Cynthia Davis, Metro McKendree district superintendent.
Geary opened the panel presentation with a nod to the American writer Alex Haley, whose one-time home could be seen through the interpretive center’s large glass windows. Haley authored the 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family that was adapted as a television mini-series in the 1970s, drew record-breaking numbers of viewers and increased interest in family genealogy.
“All of us have a story,” said Geary. “Alex Haley taught us the value of having a story.”
Geary told the approximately 54 people who were gathered – people of different races, ages and faith affiliations – that he believes God wants “us” to be “voices of reconciliation” in the midst of racial conflict. He said he hoped the Aug. 30 and Sept. 27 events will provide forums to teach, listen and share with one another.
“In being honest, humble and approachable, we will begin to hear our voices,” said Geary, who shared his personal story, followed by Luvene, Davis and Seely, who each offered personal experiences related to race relations.
“When you develop relationships with people, it changes your perspective,” said Davis.
Seely stressed the importance of being “intentional” and “deliberate” about reaching out and listening to one another.
“Candid and lively” was how Geary described the conversation that took place among the eight small groups after the panel presentation. Each group reported back to the larger group its thoughts, comments and observations.
Each group was given a list of four questions to help stimulate conversation.
Below is a sampling of thoughts (some paraphrased) that were shared by the groups:

  • There are a lot of hurt and angry people. It’s going to take love and reaching out in faith.
  • The secular media has played a role in separation and division among the races.
  • We have to acknowledge how we are different, but also how we are the same.
  • We can’t change the past, but we can start today to change the future.
  • The voice of the church may be the only one that can frame this conversation and bring it to the public.
  • We have to harness the anger. Anger (can be) a good thing.
  • What we do with the past will determine outcomes.
  • We have individual stories, but there is a shared, common narrative. We have to understand and meet in that common story.
  • We have to be careful not to pass on the toxicity of racism to our children.
  • We can’t correct the present without looking at the past.
  • We can’t excuse, but we can understand.
  • Laity have to support clergy in these hard discussions.
  • We can’t have an integrated community with a segregated church.
  • Too often storytelling gets cut off because it gets uncomfortable.
  • One way we work past this is first seeing each other as individuals.
  • “Culture” is what we’re talking all around.
  • True growth only comes from stepping outside our comfort zones.
  • We have to come to terms with the fact that we worship differently.
  • Maybe we do need to apologize, even though we didn’t (first) cause the problem.
  • Churches have to be intentional about worshiping, praying and serving together.
  • We have to listen and develop relationships.  
Geary encouraged everyone in attendance on Aug. 30 to continue similar conversations in their churches and communities and requested assistance in promoting the Sept. 27 event, again at the Alex Haley Interpretive Center in Henning. For GPS, use "535 Haley Ave.,Henning, TN 38041.

Overflow parking will be available at New Hope CME Church, 350 Moorer Ave., Henning, TN 38041.

The schedule will be as follows:
  • 3 p.m. – tours of exhibit and Haley home
  • 4 p.m. – panel presentation and small group conversations, followed by refreshments provided by Hughlett, Lighthouse and Ross UMCs
  • 5 p.m. - tours of exhibit and Haley home  
Edna Bonner, Memphis Conference Church and Society Action Team leader, will replace Davis on the Sept. 27 panel.

“Who do you know who needs to be here?” asked Geary, who encouraged attendees to make other people aware of these “first steps” toward racial change and reconciliation.
Geary closed the Aug. 30 event by praying, “History is filled with people who didn’t think they had a voice, but found it. … God, help me find my voice.”


Upcoming Events
  • Sunday, Sept. 13: Racial Unity and Reconciliation Worship Service at 5:30 at the Andrews Chapel campus of Jackson First UMC in Huntersville, Tenn., seven miles west of Jackson. | DETAILS
  • Saturday, Nov. 21: Memphis Conference free training for racial reconciliation discussions and ministries - Jackson First UMC, Jackson, TN | DETAILS
Book Studies
  • The Faith of a Mockingbird – This group Bible study, based on Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mockingbird, uses Lee’s beloved characters to explore Christian faith, theology and ethics. | DETAILS
  • Crazy Enough to Care: Changing Your World Through Compassion, Justice and Racial Reconciliation – This study helps uncover things that make compassion impractical in contemporary society and addresses fears that crop up when reaching out to unknown people. | DETAILS
  • Pastors Model Peace After Ferguson – a five-minute video from United Methodist TV about two United Methodist pastors who are friends and called to be on the front lines after Michael Brown was fatally shot in altercation with police in Ferguson, Mo., in Aug. 2014. | DETAILS
Resource Kit
  • “Peace With Justice Sunday” Pastor and Leader’s Kit -- a collection of resources to download to promote Peace With Justice Sunday (on the designated Sunday or any other day). | DETAILS             
  • Churches Should Make Fighting Racism a Priority -- United Methodists support initiative. | DETAILS
  • Liberty and Justice for All -- Churches are encouraged to celebrate (a day) of "Confession, Repentance & Commitment to End Racism." | DETAILS
  • 25 Ways to Affirm Diversity – List can help with being more intentional about embracing change. | DETAILS
  • 5 Key Millennial Research Findings Churches Should Know - #4 talks about racial diversity. | DETAILS
  • Get Real! Young adults have authenticity radar – “Authentic diversity” is on this article's list.| DETAILS