Damaged Heritage: The Elaine Race Massacre and A Story of Reconciliation

Sunday, June 28, 2020 | 2:00pm

The Christian Formation and Racial Justice Task Force committees host this special online presentation by poet and author J. Chester Johnson on his timely new book entitled Damaged HeritageThe Elaine Race Massacre and A Story of Reconciliation [Pegasus Books, published May 2020]

"J. Chester Johnson is of that generation of southern-born white people who came of age in the 1960s, deep in the heart of American apartheid, in hometowns they were taught to see as perfections of the American dream. Then they were tortured first by personal discovery of the white supremacist evil that suffused their idyllic worlds, then tortured by the failure of peers to make the same discovery, and finally tortured by revelations of the complicity of people they loved and admired most.  In Damaged Heritage, Johnson poignantly reveals the demons he discovered in his own life and family, ties to one of the worst racial horrors in American history, his personal anguish, and his efforts to make amends and fill a desperate empty place in our hearts. Only a poet can see this clearly, be this honest, and still hope this much.”
—Douglas A. Blackmon, Pulitzer Prize author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

In writing to our congregation committee members, the author offered the following: “One outcome of isolation for Christian communities can be personal revelation that may possibly occur from non-communication and individual contemplation of social and spiritual issues. One issue to be considered in that context may be revelation about individual responsibility toward race and racial reconciliation. Johnson then provided the following excerpts from Damaged Heritage to help frame our thinking:

  • “Those who have been victimized or oppressed inhabit higher ground for reconciliation efforts. But without forgiveness exercised by those who sustained the aggression and who continue to carry long-term effects of associated oppression, there is little chance for reconciliation. The oppressing parties are not able to forgive themselves; they have no resources for such an act. Thus, the role of the historically oppressed is a most crucial one in the reconciliation relationship. That is also the nature of the non-violent strategy for social change: the oppressed frees the oppressor from acts of oppression and the residual effects of inhuman treatment and inhuman objectification.”
  • “To receive another’s situation captures the will of one’s own purpose, thus finding one’s self in the place of another. Further, for someone connected to the oppressing (historically speaking) side, this act of pursuing reconciliation with another of a separate race, combined with an acceptance of forgiveness from those oppressed, can remove the dominance of a seemingly immutable past transmuted to the present. For someone associated with the oppressed, to be co-inherently bound to a representative of past oppression is to transfer freedom to that person, and the act of imparting freedom can serve as an illumination and passage to a consciously elevated relationship.”

About J. Chester Johnson
Johnson is a well-known poet, essayist, and translator, who grew up one county removed from the Elaine Race Massacre site in southeast Arkansas along the Mississippi River Delta. He has written extensively on race and civil rights, composing the Litany for the national Day of Repentance (October 4, 2008) when the Episcopal Church formally apologized for its role in transatlantic slavery and related evils. At the height of the Civil Rights Movement and following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, Johnson returned to the town of his youth to teach in the all African-American public school before integration of the local education system. Several of his writings are part of the J. Chester Johnson Collection in the Civil Rights Archives at Queens College, the alma mater for Andrew Goodman, one of three martyrs murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi during Freedom Summer. Johnson’s three most recent books are St. Paul’s Chapel & Selected Shorter Poems (2010), Now And Then: Selected Longer Poems (2017), and Auden, the Psalms, and Me (2017), the story of the retranslation of the psalms in the Book of Common Prayer for which W. H. Auden (1968-1971) and Johnson (1971-1979) were the poets on the drafting committee; published in 1979, this version became a standard.

  • Admission
  • Dates Offered
    • June 28, 2020 @ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm