Can Idealism and Popularity Coexist? Looking at Koinonia’s Founder, Clarence Jordan

Having just gotten back from one of the most amazing experiences at Allume, it’s been a little hard to switch gears back to a thought that began before this weekend took place.  As a blogger, when you’re in a community that thrives in large part around your online presence, your brand, and what you have to offer to a community and let’s face it, maybe even some popularity, it’s hard to switch back to the small, to the ideals that are fundamental, ideas that shape who you are, those things that call you to the mat when it comes to what you will fight for, no matter what the cost.
I recently watched the movie, Briars in the Cottonpatch: The Story of Koinonia Farm.
Clarence Jordan, the founder of Koinonia Farm was born in 1912 to the family of a prominent banker in Southwest GA.  Growing up, he had a shy personality, but apparently on things that mattered most to him, he never backed down.  After graduating from high school, he went on to UGA to earn a degree in agriculture hoping to use his education to help poor black farmers where he grew up, but he continued his education went on to earn a doctorate degree in Greek New Testament at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Kentucky. 
In 1942, Clarence, along with his wife and a good friend, purchased some neglected farmland in Sumter County, Ga., establishing a farm called “Koinonia”, the Greek word for “commune” where whites and blacks worked the land and shared life alongside each other. For almost 10 years this community existed in peace before trouble began…
 When word got out that Kononiea was paying its black and white workers equally, there was unrest.  And in 1950, when Clarence brought a dark-skinned Indian man with him to the local Rehoboth Baptist Church, this man was perceived as black and trouble began brewing.
On May 17, 1954, when the decision of Brown v. Board of education was handed down from the Supreme Court hatred continued to bubble to the surface and that was the summer that Koinonia decided to organize a summer camp for both black and white children.  They received so much backlash and threats from the community, that they decided to move the camp to TN. 
That was the last summer of peace on Koinonia Farm. 
In March of 1956, Clarence Jordan was asked to sponsor black students to the Atlanta Business College and he agreed, but this decision received negative publicity and violence broke out on the farm. Gunshots riddled the house where the children were gathered on a bed one night for storytime.  Bullets came into the walls just inches from their heads.
The surrounding community did everything they could to make life unbearable for the families at Koinonia.  There was an economic boycott in town, banning anyone from selling to, or buying from Koinonia.  Finally, in January of 1957, Jordan sent a plea to President Eisenhower for the protection of this community of some 50 people.  Five weeks later, Jordan received his reply from the White House Attorney General saying that they are unable to help because no federal laws had been broken and simply passed it off to GA’s governor and the GA Bureau of Investigation.  Blame for the violence was ultimately placed back on to Koinonia.
During these years, the children of Koinonia were under a constant threat, and the “briar” of this community was making the local Klu Klux Klan howl.  One day, a 70 car caravan of Klansman descended on the farm, requesting from Clarence that they purchase the farm for only half its value: 149K.  Many left the community, they had no other choice, it was a matter of survival.  And despite efforts from the local newspaper not to sensationalize the activities at the farm, the whole county became afraid.  Clarence pleaded for brotherhood, peace.  His answer?
Their roadside stands were blown up.
Gas tanks and farm signs were riddled with bullet holes.
Fruit trees chopped down.
Klan rallies, burning crosses.
The result?  The Koinonia story spreads.
Things came to a head on May 17, 1957 when a white-owned store in downtown Americus that had sold supplies to Koinonia  was blown up.  Just a few days later, on May 26, concern citizens in the community held a meeting with Clarence and confronted him, they asked him to leave for the good of the community.
Their insurance is cancelled.
Terrorist attacks continue.
They are investigated by the state.
They are under extreme pressure to leave.
They stood on the brink of extinction, but they refused to fold.  Support for the community came in the form of $50 pledges from 2,000 people (can we give a shout-out for crowd funding?) Clarence got smart and started a pecan business out of the farm, in keeping with his sense of humor, their tagline was “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.”  In a community that was founded on passion, optimism and faith, all this testing brought out its core of courage and commitment to their ideal that all men were created equal.  
Even the white children of the Kononia were bearing the full brunt of their stand for equality: they had been banned from Americus High School, with the thought that they would poison the thinking of the students there, but the court decided in Koinonia’s favor and the students were allowed in.  They faced years of rejection, anger and mistreatment–they were the front line of their parent’s beliefs. 
Veterans of this movement called Americus one of the meanest places in America at that time.  By the summer of 1965, Americus was nationally notorious, just as famous as Selma, AL in their fight in the civil rights movement.
The movement in Americus began at Koinonia as blacks would generally use this as a gathering place before their rallies.
By 1968, only two families remained at the farm, but in came the Fuller Family.  Millard and Linda Fuller and their children, who had recently decided to give away all their money in search of simplistic and less materialistic existence were vacationing that summer in Florida.  While driving back home they stopped in to visit friends at  Koinonia and stayed for lunch. 
In walked Clarence Jordan while they were eating and they decided to stay. 
By the 1960’s public places were being integrated, but unfortunately, this ideal had not yet spread to the religious community.  Kononia was invited to First Baptist Church of Americus  by a speaker there that Sunday, and a black friend came with them and everything broke loose.  They grabbed him, demanded that he leave–apparently, Clarence mistakenly had taken this place for God’s house-not their house. 
It was in the late 1960’s, the idea for the future Habitat for Humanity began to grow.  In the Spring of 1969, Kononia was looking for a mission, a way to serve, and in looking around their community, Clarence found the overwhelming need for new houses so they purchased land for 42 1/2 acre plots to build new homes for the underprivileged, Clarence knew that being an authentic disciple of Jesus meant providing a relevant need. 
Clarence planted the seed… 
And on October 29, 1969, as they were beginning this project, Clarence was writing in his small shack on the property, laid his head against the wall and passed away. 
In death, the local community treated Clarence as they had during his lifetime, with absolute contempt and disrespect.  After his autopsy, the hospital returned his body naked, with his clothing shoved in a paper bag.
Clarence was buried in a simple pine box, clothed in his overalls, no authorities or people of prominence attended his funeral, mostly just those from around the Koinonia community. 
Clarence is labeled as a giant of the 20th Century. 
Kononia’s influence didn’t end in Sumter County.  The Fuller family went on a missions trip to Africa in the 1970’s and put some of Clarence’s “fund for humanity” concepts into practice.
This was the birth of Habitat for Humanity.
Millard’s projection and dream was to provide housing for the poor worldwide, while Kononia was committed to serving in Sumter County.  Habitat began their work in the county and “proved” themselves, they built their headquarters in uptown, creating jobs and adding new taxpayers.
And from briars came the bloom of Habitat for Humanity and Americus was now known as the headquarters for Habitat.  It’s funny how things have a way of coming full circle.
Kononia still operates a thriving mail-order business, shipping out chocolate, breads, pecans today.  Twenty to thirty people live on the farm at one time.  In the words of Jimmy Carter, the things that made Jordan so innovative was how early he performed his duty before God, Jordan started his work 15 years before MLK, Jr. was even well-known.
In February, 1968, Jordan made this statement in an interview, “We have not made statistical success our goal, we have made success from a spiritual standpoint our goal in that whether there is 1 or 100 or 1,000, we will be faithful to the ideals to which we’ve committed ourselves.”
Ask yourself today, What have I committed myself to?  What matters most?  Appealing to the crowd, or sticking to your ideals?  I have a feeling if you pick the second option, you might sleep a little better this evening.

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