Recorded/transcribed by Ann Karp
Joe Jones visited Koinonia as a pre-teen and youth, often with his cousin, Collins McGee. Collins McGee was an African-American friend of Koinonia. You may recognize his name as the man who, along with Clarence Jordan and five others, accepted an open invitation to attend a mass meeting at the white Baptist church of Americus in 1965. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, their integrated group was unceremoniously tossed out of that church, but not before Clarence “put in a parting shot: ‘Well, everything in Americus is integrated now except the churches and the jails. And I have hope for the jails.’ (Dallas Lee, The Cotton Patch Evidence, p. 202).
As an African-American, Joe had to take the back roads to ensure that he would not be persecuted by hostile whites for his trips to Koinonia. “I had to get back before sundown or I’d be in trouble. I was about 15 years old at the time.” He also became involved in the civil rights movement in Americus. He spoke of various places the Americus movement attempted to integrate. “There was a redneck restaurant called B & B, and we tried to integrate it. A lot of people got beaten doing that.
“We prayed before those marches that nobody would have a penknife in their pocket, because if the police found anybody with any kind of knife, you were finished. They beat you some in the street, but that was nothing compared to what would happen once they got you back to the jail where nobody was watching.
“They [segregationists and law enforcement] wanted you to retaliate. Retaliation would feed the fire. There were no laws to protect or help you. People would not openly help you. There was a lawyer, Frank J. Meyers, who ran Americus. He sat and talked with Clarence Jordan—he wanted them to move. In later years, he saw things differently. He repented; several other powerful ones did. But the damage was done.
“The ones in power were the most prejudiced, and the others followed them. The White Citizens Council and the KKK were organized and dangerous, they created a lot of fear. Once the KKK had a cavalcade on Highway 30, over 70 cars long. They rode all the way to Koinonia in plain sight, but no law enforcement stopped them. Anything to drive these people away, they figured. A lady [Margaret Wittkamper] at Koinonia was watching them drive up and she asked, “Whose funeral is this?” They made some remark like, “It may be yours.”
“Now it’s no big thing to eat together, walk together. But then, it was unheard of. You could really get in trouble for it.”