Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church


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My Pilgrimage in Macon

  • The Rev. Lisa M. Zaina
  • Oct 26, 2016
  • Category: General
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I turned 21 in 1981. My parents, and my sisters, took me out for my first (legal) drink. It, of course, was a turning point for all sorts of reasons. My whole life was ahead of me, and it was beckoning.

People were gathered around a picture. The expressions were varied, but most were peering at it with a look of disbelief. No one talked.

I had my own silent conversation with myself. “Hey, aren’t those Converse tennis shoes on that man? Wait a second, they look almost exactly like a pair of shoes that I wore when I played tennis in the mid to late 70’s.”

You may remember them as well, they were the Converse Chris Evert shoe, but the men’s version.

And, yes, as I approached the picture and looked more closely, it was clear that they were Converse tennis shoes. And, the man in the picture was wearing a nylon windbreaker. It sort of looked like a “Member’s Only” jacket. That was a blast from the past. He was wearing jeans as well.

His clothing, although dated, wasn’t old, at least to me. There was a year written on the picture and it was 1981.

Oh yeah, this person was hanging from a tree, by his neck. He had been hanged, because of the color of his skin. 

Michael Donald was 19 in 1981. He attending a local trade school and worked part-time at the Mobile Press Register. He wanted to be a mason.

This past weekend, several parishioners and I attended the pilgrimage to Macon, GA that was presented by the Diocese of Atlanta’s Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism. This pilgrimage was entitled “Reclaiming Hope Through Remembering: A Memorial Pilgrimage to a Martyrdom Site”.

We visited the Douglass Theater where The Rt. Rev. Rob Wright presided at the Eucharist, and blessed and dedicated a plaque honoring those known and unknown who were lynched in middle Georgia between 1866-1922. We then walked to the Tubman African American Museum and had the opportunity, among other things, to file through two classrooms that had approximately fifteen to twenty black-and-white photos of bodies hanging from trees.

Most photos were old, some dating back into the nineteenth century. And, that doesn’t make them okay. Man’s inhumanity to man is atrocious whenever it happens.

So, all of those pictures are difficult to see, but Michael Donald’s was particularly difficult. Unlike me, he never had a chance to celebrate the watershed moment of turning 21. The life ahead of him was destroyed because two KKK members were angered by the fact that a mistrial had been declared in the murder trial of an African-American man accused of killing a police officer.   So, they found someone of the same color, and simply strung him up on a tree.

The last recorded lynching in the United States was that of Michael Donald in 1981.

Where were you in 1981? What were you doing? What were your dreams and aspirations?

As hard as it was to stare at that picture of a contemporary, cut short by man’s inhumanity, stare we did. We can’t look away, because if we do, we may forget. And forgetting means that we may make the same mistakes all over again. We can’t make the same mistakes.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner, wrote: “Without memory, our existence would be barren and opaque, like a prison cell into which no light penetrates; like a tomb which rejects the living…If anything can, it is memory that will save humanity. For me hope without memory is like memory without hope.”

I am struck by the words from the Luke the Evangelist: “If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”

We must recognize the dark before we can shine a light on it. In order to recognize it, we must be willing to look at it, and remember.

We must remember that Michael Donald never turned 21.

Last year, when we engaged in discussions about our role in dismantling racism, the question was asked, “what’s next?” These pilgrimages are among what is next. But closer to home, we have opportunities as well. Join us for “A Call to Action: Faith & Racism” on Sunday, November 13 at Episcopal Church of the Epiphany…