Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Clarence Jordan: A Radical Pilgrimage in Scorn of the Consequences

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Clarence Jordan: A Radical Pilgrimage in Scorn of the Consequences

Article excerpt

Clarence Jordan: A Radical Pilgrimage in Scorn of the Consequences. By Frederick L. Downing. Foreword by Walter Brueggemann. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2017. Pp. xviii, 310. $35.00, ISBN 978-0-88146-z 632-4.)

Frederick L. Downing answers two questions in this book, one he articulates and one he does not. The one he does not articulate is the one of greater interest to historians of the American South: How did an ordained Southern Baptist minister who studied agriculture in college, got a Ph.D. in New Testament Greek, and became best known during his lifetime for translating the Gospels and the book of Acts into the folk dialect of the rural American South end up with an FBI file? The answer to that unarticulated question is found in the evidence Downing uses to answer the question he asks more overtly: What about this twentieth-century southern white minister caused him to depart from the behavior of so many of his contemporaries and spend his entire adult life opposing segregation and bigotry?

The minister was Clarence Jordan, and the quick answer to the question about the FBI file, with myriad implications and spinoffs, is that Jordan (rhymes with burden)--along with his wife, Florence Kroeger Jordan, and some friends, Martin England and Mabel Orr England--founded Koinonia Farm in rural Sumter County, Georgia, in 1942. That act set Jordan on a path of direct and constant confrontation with the white southern racist power structure that kept him occupied until his death in 1969. Koinonia Farm was the manifestation of a dream Jordan and Martin England shared, an interracial, agricultural intentional community in the South. Its purpose was to demonstrate the practical but transformative effects of living in accordance with Jesus's requirements in the Gospels and to point out that segregation was incompatible with those requirements. From Koinonia's beginnings, African Americans and white people worked together, took their meals together, studied the Bible together, and, in many other ways, overturned the racial and class hierarchies that prevailed in the region. …

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