June 19 is hardly a date that stands out in one’s memory as holding any significance, nor is the death of the English landowner Charles Cunningham Boycott on this date in 1897, a subject one might recall from high school history.
He was a retired army officer who worked as a land agent in County Mayo, Ireland. During the nation’s economic downturn of the 1880s, he served eviction notices on a number of tenants who had little recourse and further aggravated his own problems by turning to the London media for support.
Instead his actions resulted in public sympathy for the tenants and an unwillingness of the local merchants to transact any business with him. The consequences of the townspeople’s efforts eventually forced him to move to France and adding the verb “boycott” to the English vocabulary describing economic sanctions taken to frustrate others’ coercive efforts.
Boycotts can be used for good or bad and be successful or fail. As a child growing up in Alabama, my first exposure to that word is associated with a 1954 event in a small, rural Georgia town across the state line, a town that later would become known to all the world — Americus.
In Americus, a scholar by the name of Clarence Jordan (two Ph.D.’s, one in agriculture the other in Greek and Hebrew) had confronted the social inequities of racism and injustice by establishing a farm, called Koinonia, where black and poor white residents would all be treated equally and could earn a decent living by their own labor.
Its residents encountered much opposition from the accepted social conventions of the Old South. Jordan had become a member of a local church congregation, but when he invited a black friend to visit with him, Jordan was voted out of the church for trying to “destroy the integrity of the church’s fellowship.”
That was when the boycott began. Local merchants decided the best method for ridding the community of Koinonia was simply to refuse services. But their boycott failed. Jordan and the other members of the farm continued their work and peaceful efforts. The aggravation escalated from refusing business to slashing their tires when these people came to town. Then it intensified to include minor violence and intimidation. Still the Koinonia people refused to give up.
In one final and desperate exertion, the local opposition came in the middle of a night with torches and weapons, burning the entire farm to the ground, save for Jordan’s house, which was riddled with bullets.
A newspaper reporter (who was strongly suspected to have been among the vigilantes visiting the previous evening) appeared the next morning to “report on the newsworthy event.” He inquired of the farm’s founder who surprisingly was in the field hoeing and planting: “Well, Dr. Jordan, you’ve got two of them Ph.D.’s and you put 14 years into this farm, but there’s nothing left of it at all. Just how successful do you think you have been?”
Clarence Jordan stopped his hoeing and replied to the reporter, “About as successful as the cross. ... What we are about is not success, but faithfulness.”
Faith is the true subject here, not boycott. Perhaps the favorite quotation by Jordan was, “Faith is not belief in spite of evidence, but a life in scorn of the consequences.”
Perhaps to truly “take up your cross and follow me” means being faithful, not successful.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!