Where KKK Burned Crosses for Decades, Pastors Mobilize Prayer Event to Renounce Racism
As America remembers the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., two Atlanta-area ministers are rebirthing the racial unity movement for a new generation.
Wednesday marks 50 years since the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by a gunman in Memphis, Tenn. The night before, King had inspired thousands of local workers gathered at a Christian church with a prophetic speech grounded in biblical allusions. A peaceful march to protest unfair wages was planned.
Five decades later, many leaders note that prejudiced public policies persist. Only weeks ago, police officers in Sacramento, California fatally shot 22 year-old black man Stephon Clark. While voices on the right and left mourn with his grieving family, our racial chasm remains.
Fortunately, Christian leaders are once again rising up to stand in the gap. Two Atlanta-area pastors, Bishop Garland Hunt and Billy Humphrey, have a vision to see 30,000 people come together this summer to renounce racism — at Stone Mountain, long associated with Confederate history and white nationalism. Their regional gatherings have continued to grow, with hundreds of local pastors involved.
Despite diverse backgrounds, the two ministers share a unified message as they speak from downtown Atlanta.
From Activist to Reconciler
The Stream: Could you share about your history with the civil rights movement?
Bishop Garland Hunt: I was born and raised here in Atlanta. During my childhood and teen years, this was the hotbed for civil rights. I grew up with Ralph Abernathy’s son and some of Dr. King’s kids in that era.
I remember the day when Dr. King was killed — I was just ten years old. It impacted us so greatly. It gave me a strong personal burden for the black community, even at an early age. So much so, my education was focused on my people. I wanted to become a lawyer to help alleviate the struggles of blacks.
At the time, the capstone of black education was Howard University — right in the hub of the nation’s capital. I chose to go there for undergrad and law school. I served as chairman of the National Organization of Black University College Students. It brought together leadership on a national scale for black higher education.
My focus was extremely ethnic and cultural, lifting up the black community. I wasn’t so much a victim of racism directly as much as I was very ethnic-conscious. I met many leaders such as Stokely Carmichael with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) — at that point, he had changed his name to Kwame Ture — and Ron Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa.
I even studied the works of Louis Farrakhan and met him personally when he reestablished the Nation of Islam. I was kind of confused. As a student leader introducing him, I prayed that God would use him to speak to us. That shows my level of confusion!
The Stream: What changed that shifted your focus in life?
Hunt: My focus in life started out dealing with a burden for black people, how we can shape their future and direction. I did many things in that arena. When I finally gave my life to the Lord, things began to change in the context of my politics and focus on my culture.
I realized my culture could not drive all my decisions and my filters. I began to see the most important thing was my love for Christ, not my love for race. I had to confess some racial prejudice in my own heart. Then I asked the Lord to help me, and He did. I sought out the pleasure of the Lord, who led me into diverse friendships.
The Lord invited me into a ministry of reconciliation. How can I help get other people through a process of true forgiveness? You’ve got to start there.
Walking in Another Person’s Shoes
The Stream: Billy, as a white minister, why is it important for Christians to care about issues of race and take steps of reconciliation?
Billy Humphrey: Part of the reason we see the festering issues of racial tension is because our nation has a wound that’s never been healed. It’s never been healed because there’s never been repentance. We have a massive contingent of people in our nation whose ancestors were enslaved, and it was wrong.
As Christians, we are to be salt and light to the world. You can’t sit there and be a “good Christian,” meanwhile you have brothers and sisters who are in pain. The Bible is clear: we are to mourn with those who mourn. We are to be empathetic and care for one another, at the very least. That’s your brother, your sister.
We are called to help bind up the brokenhearted, to come to love. If you read the New Testament objectively, the theme of reconciliation is continuous. We have it so clearly spelled out. In Ephesians, Galatians and the entire book of Romans, the key issue Paul is addressing is that we are one body.
The most shocking one is Jew and Gentile. In this day and time, we don’t understand the level of animosity there. We see it in the Middle East, but we don’t quite get the historic division between Jew and Gentile. They never interrelated, yet the gospel crossed those lines. So when a Bible-believing Christian says, Race issues are political, I can’t get into that, they haven’t really considered what they’re saying.
The gospel is about reconciliation between God and man, as well as man and man. That’s the central point. If you’re going to serve the Lord, saying yes to Jesus and yes to the Cross, it’s not just a vertical reconciliation. There’s a horizontal reconciliation.
Gathering as “One Race”
The Stream: What is the significance of Stone Mountain, Georgia in race relations struggles — and this gathering?
Hunt: Growing up in this area, I’ve always known about that big piece of granite called Stone Mountain. As a boy, I thought it was fun to visit or climb to the top of it. It wasn’t a place I was afraid to go. As you get older, you realize: This place has a lot of history. Some of it should embarrass us.
It’s known as a hub of the Confederacy, with soldiers carved there on the side of the mountain. They wanted some way to memorialize those leaders, particularly south of the Mason-Dixon line. Then the Ku Klux Klan used Stone Mountain as a place to reignite their authority. They burned crosses and made it a beacon of white supremacy and racism.
Dr. King mentioned Stone Mountain often, notably in his “I Have a Dream” speech. He talked about “the sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners” coming together “at Stone Mountain.” That kind of terminology is imperative for those who live in the South.
Frankly, Stone Mountain is a perfect place to begin to bring down racism. It’s going right to the teeth of the lion, casting down the demonic strongholds that have brought division throughout our nation — starting with this region.
The Stream: Why is the OneRace Gathering important for our nation at this time?
Hunt: OneRace Stone Mountain is a catalytic event to pull people together and stand against these strongholds of racism and dead religion. It’s not just a single event, but it’s after that. How will we interact as the body of Jesus Christ together? How we will pursue true balance and justice?
Hopefully, it’s a beginning and commencement in the Atlanta area. I foresee that it will be nationwide. We need those who commit to a lifetime journey of racial healing. This didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not going to be conquered overnight. As men’s hearts are given over to Christ, it can change the mentality.
So if there’s a shooting or a white supremacist group or Black Lives Matter in the street, I believe there should also be an accompanying movement of those who are racially healed. We need to declare, This city is not going to be given over to the division of violence. The Lord is here. That will bring calm in the midst of the storm.
Humphrey: It feels like we’re fighting some kind of giant. Prejudice is a huge issue that has many complexities. I find that the more we deal with it on a social level, the more muddy and unclear the issues are. The more we deal with it from a gospel lens, the more clear and simple the issues become.
What’s not possible with men is possible with God. With Jesus at the center and the heart of the Lord compelling us, we have a lot of reason for hope. There’s a day coming for Atlanta where it will be known as a city alive with love. We are believing for the entire cultural atmosphere to shift — for racism, subjugation, bias and all the pieces that go into these attitudes to be overcome in relationship.
There’s a potential to end it, at least in this city. This is where I live so it’s the only place I can put my feet down and believe for.
Learn more about the OneRace Gathering on Saturday, August 25. Watch a recent CBN interview with Billy Humphrey and Bishop Garland Hunt: