Printer-friendly version

Abundance at Anathoth

Garden of Reconciliation
In the small farming town of Cedar Grove, N.C., an unsolved murder helped whites and blacks imagine a better future

come.”

More than a hundred people showed up—black, white, Latino, rich, poor, churched, unchurched. Taylor, who had brought his 76-year-old mother, Scenobia, with him, says, “Tears came to my eyes to see the whole community come together. We had black preachers that spoke, we had white preachers that spoke, and you could feel the presence of a higher power.”

For both Taylor and Hackney, it was a sign that Cedar Grove’s segregated history could actually come to an end. The town was finally in a place where race and class didn’t matter. Hackney told the Taylors that she felt strongly that this was a picture of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Scenobia Taylor and her children still remember the nights when the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses in their yard, and when segregationists fired gunshots at Valee and his siblings as they began attending previously white schools.

“She’s seen all that, and at that vigil I think she was able to see a new world being born, a new community, a very new community of different colors and shapes and sizes,” Valee says.

Food and Faith

At the time of Bill King’s death, Scenobia Taylor was feeling troubled. She had recently purchased more than a hundred acres from her brother before he died. She was bothered by the fact that no one in her family’s generation used their land for anything but themselves.

“My father, he gave land for a school,” she says. “My grandfather, he gave land for the church, and for people to be buried. Papa, at one time, he had a thousand acres. We have all this land here, and what do we do with it? We not doin’ nothin’.”

She wanted to do something like her grandfather and father had done. She began to pray, “Lord, please show me, give me a sign or somethin’.”

Not long after the vigil for Bill King, she got the sign she was waiting for. She dreamed that God told her to give some of her land away to feed the hungry.

At the time, Hackney’s church was studying the story of Jeremiah in the Old Testament. While planting a field wasn’t customary during wartime, God told Jeremiah to buy land in a place called Anathoth and plant crops to feed his community.

Hackney began thinking about the hunger in Cedar Grove. She and her congregation sponsored community discussions about how food and faith are linked. Valee Taylor was already talking to local ministers, both black and white, about how his mother wanted to give land to the community. After much prayer and discussion, Scenobia Taylor decided to donate five acres of prime land to what was historically the whitest, richest church in the community—Cedar Grove United Methodist.

The Taylors wanted to build a garden to honor Bill King’s memory, and to name it Anathoth after Jeremiah’s field in the Old Testament. There, anyone, black or white, rich or poor, could come to a community garden and get food to eat.

But such a generous donation to a white church didn’t go over well with some in the black community.

“People said, ‘What have they done for us? Ain’t never did nothing for us,’” Scenobia says. “We told them, ‘We’re not looking to the past. We’re looking toward the future. We’re trying to build Anathoth Garden here in our community, starting a community of giving here.’”

Scenobia Taylor’s pastor approved of the idea. But some members of her extended family argued that their grandfather had worked hard to amass a thousand acres despite the Depression and terrible racism. They weren’t about to see five acres of it go to a white church.

“They attacked my mother real hard, tried to make false accusations, and it all came because she was giving five acres to that church,” Valee says.

“With my family, you know it’s not only white that’s prejudiced; it’s black too that’s prejudiced,” his mother says. “They don’t see things like they should.”

Two extended family members filed a lawsuit, claiming that Scenobia Taylor had acquired the land dishonestly. In the meantime, the church’s discussions about food, faith, and farming had become controversial. The idea of starting a community garden to help feed the poor didn’t sit well with everyone. Among some, there was a perception that poverty is the result of chronic laziness.

Hackney was making waves in other ways. Her efforts to organize joint worship between African-Americans and whites raised objections at Cedar Grove that “their