Saturday, January 30, 2010

A tale of racial healing in the Missouri Ozarks

Read Sean Hamill's report in the "Religion Journal" feature of the New York Times. The dateline is Ash Grove, Missouri, population 1,430, in the southwest part of the state, a region known as a KKK stronghold in years past. Indeed, as the story notes, Ash Grove's population was more than a tenth Black at the turn of the twentieth century, but dwindled following the lynching of three black men in nearby Springfield in 1906.

Hamill's story focuses on Reverend Moses Berry, an Orthodox minister who moved back to Ash Grove, where he had grown up, about a dozen years ago. An excerpt follows:

By founding a black history museum here, cleaning up his family’s cemetery and telling his family’s sometimes controversial story, beginning with its roots in slavery, Father Moses, as everyone calls him — an African-American, Orthodox Christian priest in a flowing black cassock — has tried to remind people of a part of the region’s often-forgotten past, and to open up hearts and minds along the way.

“He brings peace to people. I’ve seen it,” said Gail Emrie, 56, a local history buff who helped get the Berry family’s 135-year-old cemetery — one of the region’s few black cemeteries not located on a plantation — listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. “It is reconciliation, and it is his mission, reconciliation of our history between the races.”

Implicitly referring to the region's history, Emrie also comments, “Every little town down here could use” a museum like the one Father Moses started.

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