Faith of a mustard seed

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

One year ago the Rev. Charles Moore, (in retirement after serving over 50 years as a Pastor in the United Methodist Church) drove to Grand Saline, TX, his birthplace. He pulled into a strip mall parking lot, knelt down and doused himself with gasoline. Then, witnesses said, he set himself on fire. Rev. Moore died that night, June 23, 2014.

His typed notes relay Moore’s frustration over The United Methodist Church’s positions on homosexuality, over the death penalty, and over Southern Methodist University’s successful bid to be home to the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Moore had earned two degrees from SMU including his Master of Divinity from SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. Another note indicated his plan to do ‘self-immolation’ on the SMU campus, on Juneteenth — the annual June 19 commemoration of the 1865 announcement to slaves within Texas that they had been freed. His “Suicide note” found in his car reads:

“I was born in Grand Saline, Texas almost 80 years ago. As I grew up, I heard the usual racial slurs, but they didn’t mean much to me. I don’t remember even meeting an African-American person until I began driving a bus to Tyler Junior College and made friends with the mechanic who cared for the vehicles. I teased him about his skin color, and he became very angry with me; that is one way I learned the pain of discrimination.

During my second year as a college student, I began serving a small Church in the country near Tyler, when the United States Supreme Court declared racial discrimination illegal in schools in 1954; when I let it be known that I agreed with the Court’s ruling, I was cursed and rejected. When word about that got back to First Methodist Church Grand Saline (which had joyfully recommended me for ministry— the first ever from the Congregation) I was condemned and called a Communist; during the 60 years since then, I have never once been invited to participate in any activity at First Methodist (except family funerals) let alone be asked to speak from it’s pulpit.

When I was about 10 yrs old, some friends and I were walking down towards the creek to catch some fish, when a man called “Uncle Billy” stopped us and called us into his house for a drink of water— but his real purpose was to cheerily tell us about helping to kill “niggers” and put their heads up on a pole. A section of Grand Saline was (maybe still is) called “pole town,” where the heads were displayed. It was years later before I knew what the name meant.

During World War II, when many soldiers came through town on the train, the citizens demanded that the shades in the passenger cars be pulled down if there were African-Americans aboard, so they wouldn’t have to look at them.

The Klu Klux Klan was once very active in Grand Saline, and still probably has sympathizers in the town. Although it is illegal to discriminate against any race relative to housing, employment, etc., African-Americans who work in Grand Saline live elsewhere. It is sad to think that schools, churches, businesses, etc. have no racial diversity when it comes to blacks.

My sense is that most Grand Saline residents just don’t want black people among them, and so African-Americans just don’t want to live there and face rejection. This is a shame that has bothered me wherever I went in the world, and did not want to be identified with the town written up in the newspaper in 1993, but I have never raised my voice or written a word to contest this situation. I have owned my old family house at 1212 N. Spring St. for 15 years but have never discussed the issue with my tenants.

Since we are currently celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer in 1964, when people first started working in the south to attain the right to vote for African-Americans along with other concerns. This past weekend was the Anniversary of the murder of three young men (Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney) in Philadelphia, Mississippi, which gave great impetus to the civil rights movement— since this historic time is being remembered, I find myself very concerned about the rise of racism across the country at the present time. Efforts are being made in many places to make voting more difficult for some people, especially African-Americans. Much of the opposition to President Obama is simply because he is black.

I will soon be 80 years old, and my heart is broken over this. America (and Grand Saline prominently) have never repented for the atrocities of slavery and its aftermath. What my hometown needs to do is open its heart and its doors to black people, as a sign of the rejection of past sins.

Many African-Americans were lynched around here, probably some in Grand Saline: hanged, decapitated and burned, some while still alive.

The vision of them haunts me greatly. So, at this late date, I have decided to join them by giving my body to be burned, with love in my heart not only for them but for the perpetrators of such great horrors— but especially for the citizens of Grand Saline, many of whom have been kind to me and others who may be moved to change the situation here.

Charles Moore
June 13, 2014

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