Union alums have influenced the Protestant church in America and around the world for two centuries. If one were to write a book on the faithful ministries of Union alums through history, it would constitute volumes. The Alumni/ae Corner tells some of our stories, one at a time. If you would like us to highlight an innovative or exciting ministry in your church or agency, or if you have a fellow alum you would recommend us contacting, please email Rev. Dr. Lynn McClintock, Alumni/ae Development Director, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's the link to the PBS feature that brought Angela's work to our attention. See why we were eager to do a story with her?
The Legacy of Lynching
During an October 2007 post-chapel lunch conversation at Saint Paul School of Theology, Angela Sims asked Rev. Wallace Hartsfield, Sr., then the pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, MO, if he attributed his current faith emphasis to anything in particular. Hartsfield talked about witnessing an act of violence when he was eight or nine years old in Florida. He didn’t call it a lynching, but Sims recognized it as one. As a result of this disclosure, she questioned if there were other black people in Hartsfield’s generation who would be willing to discuss their memories with her, and that one lunchtime question led to years of work on an oral history project about lynching.
The subject was already on Angela’s mind because she would soon defend her dissertation here at Union, which examined Ida B. Wells’ approach to counter lynching in 1892. She was a Teaching Assistant in Professor Henry Simmons’ congregational studies class, which highlighted methods of ethnographic research. Doing an oral history project about lynching “just seemed like a next natural step,” she said.
Angela spent most of the 2009-2010 academic year traveling around the country, talking with more than 70 people over 70 years old. After that, she “just sort of sat with the information for awhile.” She had to develop “almost a clinical perspective,” she said, in order to “hear what’s really been said and not react.” What she heard was broad and deep. Angela was struck by the people’s knowledge that they were called to forgive those who acted violently and to forgive themselves, whether they were victims or witnesses. “They don’t have to respond in hate to those who act out of hate,” she said. That was an important realization because violence “is still etched into the history of the United States,” whether or not we know it. “It’s really important to think about the way in which communities preserve narratives,” she said. “We lose a significant amount of our heritage and our history” when we don’t pay attention to those narratives. In the case of lynching, there has been “no national acknowledgement of this atrocity.” Angela explains this as part of a mentality of detachment. “It’s easy to do the detachment because we’ve never attached ourselves” to the historical legacy of lynching, she said. Her project was an opportunity for many people to voice the good parts “as well as the dark side of what it means to be a resident of this republic.”
The interview phase is now complete, with all the interviews transcribed and many available on DVD. Archives will be open at Baylor University for public access starting this summer. Baylor University Press is also publishing the project as a book.
--Written by second level student and future alumna, Rachel M. Jenkins