Hamblin tells heroic story of Cotton Patch Gospel writer

Bob Hamblin portrays Clarence Jordan's life Thursday night. | Photo by Eric Marcy
Bob Hamblin portrays Clarence Jordan's life Thursday night. | Photo by Eric Marcy
Bob Hamblin portrays Clarence Jordan’s life Thursday night. | Photo by Eric Marcy

Bob Hamblin, Professor Emeritus of English at Southeast Missouri State University, performed a one-man show based on the life of racial reconciliation advocate Clarence Jordan last night as the Jones Lecture Series resumed for the first time since 2010.

Dressed in a blue button-down and denim overalls, Hamblin stepped up to the podium and assumed the persona of the late Jordan, addressing the audience in the Carl Grant Events Center with a distinct Georgian accent befitting his subject.

Hamblin, as Jordan, related the farmer and community founder’s journey from earning his PhD at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to founding the biracial Koinonia Farm near Americus, Georgia in 1942 because of a desire to help impoverished farmers.

Koinonia, a movement that eventually birthed Habitat for Humanity, was founded on the principles of the biblical book of Acts.

“All were equal, shared possessions in common, practiced conservation and stewardship,” Hamblin said in character. “I guess we were environmentalists.”

What got the neighbors of Koinonia (its name derived from the Greek word for communion) upset, Hamblin said, was not any of these efforts, but rather the simple fact that they were a biracial group that included several African-American families. This aroused the opposition of the Ku Klux Klan along with that of Jordan’s fellow Baptists in the area.

After Jordan signed a petition supporting the rights of two African-American women to attend a business school, Chamblin said Jordan found himself expelled from his Baptist church, and the community became the victims of Klan attacks that included the burning down of the community’s barn, the dynamiting of their produce stand, and Klansmen driving through Koinonia’s homes firing machine guns. When Jordan appealed to the authorities for protection, the attorney general of Georgia instead placed the community on a communist watch-list.

Hamblin, speaking as Jordan, said that “fear is the polio of the soul that keeps our faith from working.” The race problem could not be solved by governments but rather by God and grace.

It was in this context that Jordan wrote his paraphrase translation of the gospels known as The Cotton Patch Gospel, calling the crucifixion a lynching and emphasizing that the stories of Jesus were “parables of revolution” through which Christianity challenged contemporary culture.

Thani Magnuson, senior English major, said he enjoyed learning about “heroes of the faith and of theater” and found Hamblin’s presentation particularly meaningful considering that his own first leading role at Union was portraying Jesus in the Cotton Patch Gospel. Understanding the man whose work inspired the play added new significance to the role for him.

Hamblin emphasized the transformative role the kingdom of God played in framing Jordan’s life mission throughout his presentation.

“The currency of the kingdom is mercy,” Hamblin said as Jordan. “And to love God is to love your neighbor.”

Image courtesy of Eric Marcy|Cardinal & Cream