Candlelight service - photo by Ira Simmons
(Clinton, KY - August 20, 2017) - The scene could have been a setting for a scene in a John Grisham novel. On a hot and humid night in mid August, rows of white folding chairs meandered across the lawn of the historic courthouse. On a Sunday evening in a very small town in a very small county, one hundred twenty men, women and children gathered on the courthouse lawn to sing, speak, pray and light candles in a service of healing and harmony.
The candlelight service began as shadows lengthened and the temperature hovered around 90 with humidity almost that high. Pastor John Varden of the Clinton First United Methodist Church, serving as emcee, opened the program by telling those sitting on folding and lawn chairs, blankets and leaning against trees that the service would go where the spirit led.
And it did.
There was lots of music. Contemporary music by Devin Pittman and Brian Harper was followed by First Methodist's choir, a solo by Paducah teen, Taylor Leavell, songs from visitors, a rendition of This Land is Your Land by children visiting on the eve of the Great Eclipse of 2017. Shelly Lickliter of First Assembly sang a chorus of a healing song that was going through her head.
There were stories. Stories of the bad old days as elders remembered separate bathrooms and separate water fountains. Stories from African Americans who told of their experiences with racism.
Rhonda Leavell recounted how she told white friends that she would be the one watched by store clerks when they shopped together. They were shocked when they saw she was not exaggerating. She explained what it was like for husband Terry and her to adopt a white child, only half joking when she said folks looked at them like they had kidnapped her.. Her daughter, Taylor, (the singer mentioned above) was really putting them through it - but then added "she's a teenager" bringing laughter and smiles from those gathered.
At right above, Darryl Sims of Clinton, named Hickman County's Ambassador, came to worship.
Martin Tennessee resident Robert said that he was thinking of his own prejudices - against whites. He told of the time he and his cousin, out to shoot pictures of an old barn, had car trouble on a two lane road in rural Tennessee. He spoke of his feelings of dread when the only one who stopped to help was a white man in a pick up truck with the Stars and Bars on the bumper. The man stopped his truck, gave their car a jump and drove on. It was not what Robert expected to happen.
Leanna Wilkerson, an adoptive mom of an Asian daughter, summed up the hope of the service. "It's easy to do this today. But tomorrow is when the test will come."
As Rev. Varden asked for blessings on those assembled, candles were distributed, lit and held high. As night fell, folks went home feeling like they had done something good.
A summer night in a small Southern town, ordinary people gathered to light one candle at a time in the wake of the hate and death the weekend before in Charlottesville Virginia.