The Table Podcast

An African-American Story

Darrell L. Bock and Jurrita Williams discuss her family history and the challenge of developing unity amidst diversity.

Timecodes
00:15
Williams’s genealogical background
11:23
The impact of slavery on American history
17:08
Beginning to understand the African American experience
22:43
Injustice in the African American experience
28:57
The impact of segregation on American society
38:30
Challenges for African Americans in the academy
Transcript

Dr. Darrell Bock

Welcome to the table. We’re discussing issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center at the Dallas Theological Seminary, and my guest today is Jurrita Williams who is Student Body President here at Dallas Theological Seminary, and you’re halfway through your term, I guess.
Jurrita Williams
Yes, I am.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So how is it going?
Jurrita Williams
It’s going pretty good [laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
Keeps you busy?
Jurrita Williams
Oh my word, yes, it does.
Dr. Darrell Bock
[Laughter.]
Jurrita Williams
A good busy, a good busy.
Dr. Darrell Bock
A good busy?
Jurrita Williams
It does, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, that’s good, and how far along are you in the program here at Dallas?
Jurrita Williams
So this is my third year in the ThM program.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
So I’m almost there.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
I see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You do see the light.
Jurrita Williams
[Laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, sometimes I ask third-year students and they’re not quite so sure if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Jurrita Williams
Oh, I’m sure [laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, okay, that’s good, well I’m glad you’re living with eschatological hope. That’s a good thing.
Jurrita Williams
Indeed [laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, so we’ve asked Jurrita in here because she presided over a student chapel that we had a few weeks ago in which she walked us through her family background, which I think is interesting because I think we’re gonna talk a little bit about life as an African-American in America and a little bit about how we in the church we can do a better job of communicating with one another.

Having come from different backgrounds and being of different races that our oneness in Christ is something that helps to drive us together and to work towards that, and to do a better job of it because our default doesn’t necessarily mean that it works so well and our history can show that.

And so we thought a journey through that kind of history with a specific example, and then just a conversation between the two of us would be a good thing.

We’ve been working together on these issues here on campus for a while and then there’s been an ongoing conversation between the Hendricks Center and many of our students about this.

We’re now I think well into our third year in having that conversation as well. So it’s part of a larger discussion that exists on our campus that we think is an attempt to model in church context the kind of conversations we can have.

Jurrita Williams
That’s the hope.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, and we really do appreciate you taking the time to be with us in the community.
Jurrita Williams
It’s my honor.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Jurrita Williams
Mmm-hmm.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So let’s dig back. We’re gonna go back into the genealogy. So how – you know this is actually an interesting question to ask anybody. How far back are you aware of your family roots? I mean how far back can you go?
Jurrita Williams
Yeah, so on my maternal side, on my mother’s side we can go back four generations to my great-great grandfather, and on my dad’s side we go back to my great grandfather.

So it’s interesting because I do have a cousin who does a wonderful job with keeping us abreast of —

Dr. Darrell Bock
Every family has one of us.
Jurrita Williams
Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
[Laughter.]
Jurrita Williams
And he is.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Jurrita Williams
He is just amazing with just keeping the books in our genealogy up to date so that we’ll just know where we came from as much as possible but I think the beauty of it is as a black American who descended from people who were enslaved.

We had an oral tradition that was handed down and he took it upon himself to write it down for us from a cousin that continued to tell the story over and over again at every reunion that we had.

And so he just did a wonderful job with making sure we had it written down so that people like me, cousins like me could read it and could understand it, and my nieces can now take hold of that is now, yeah.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, and you know I wasn’t planning to discuss this but it’s an interesting point. The whole morality aspect of how we pass on family traditions, I mean because in our family we don’t have a – there’s no Bock book anywhere.
Jurrita Williams
Mmm-hmm.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You know, but we had an aunt. We had an aunt who has traced the family on my wife’s side back 15 generations.
Jurrita Williams
Oh, wow.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, and actually back in the days of when Max first came out.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah [laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, so this is back in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Jurrita Williams
Oh, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Put together a series of eight by 11 sheets and did a genealogical tree which she then – she had lithographed into a full thing that’s on our back wall in our dining room, and with a little capsuled story for each person for whom she had information.
Jurrita Williams
Oh, wow, that’s pretty amazing.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So yeah, it is pretty – in fact, people walk in to our house and they walk into our dining room, and it’s siting on the back wall and they go what is that?
Jurrita Williams
What is that, yeah, yeah [laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, that’s a tree like you’ve never seen before.
Jurrita Williams
Indeed, yeah, it is.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So yeah, and it was all a combination of people who sat down and recorded these little snippets that you’re talking about.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That – what used to be passed on orally.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So that’s fascinating. So let’s talk about your family and which – I’ll let you decide whether you’re talking about your dad’s side or your mom’s side, that you get —
Jurrita Williams
Oh, let’s talk about both.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
[Laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
No, but which first?
Jurrita Williams
I will talk about my mom’s first.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
That’s kind of how I entered into it for the chapel.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
When I was thinking about the genealogy, I thought about Christ our redeemer embodied, right and so part of my hope is that the embodiment of who I am as an African-American or a black female, me being present wherever I am, whether it’s in church, whether it’s at DTS, whether it’s in the grocery store that the embodiment of who I am is a story of contemporary history.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And so starting with my mother’s side, so my mother is the daughter of Jess and George Gibson. George is the son of Morgan Gibson, and Morgan is the son of George Papa Gibson, and that’s as far as I know that we can go back is with George.
Dr. Darrell Bock
When you say Papa, you’re top of the line, eh?
Jurrita Williams
[Laughter] no, I didn’t – I didn’t know Papa Gibson but that’s who you know —
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
— as the story goes along, that’s who they call them because there were several Georges, including my grandfather. So to distinguish between the Georges, and so George Gipson with a P actually was enslaved, and so he was sold from North Carolina into Hill County Alabama, which is where I’m from. I’m from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which is in Hill County.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
But as slavery was abolished in 1865, around that time he and Violet Hearns, he was sold into the Hearns – or I’m sorry, to Tate Evans in Hill County, Alabama on that farm or on that plantation and but worked in the Hearns Community in Hill County.

And so as slavery was abolished, the institution was abolished, they got married and then they moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama which is where I am from.

Dr. Darrell Bock
So are we in the middle of the 1800’s? How far back are we going?
Jurrita Williams
About 1800’s, right just before the 1800’s.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
So he was sold at seven years old.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
From North Carolina and so say maybe about 1780’s up until the 1800’s, I’m assuming.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So this goes all the way back just about to where – to the founding of our country, almost.
Jurrita Williams
Absolutely, which I think is imperative for us to remember.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
It’s not that far back and I know it seems like we are an old country but we are not.
Dr. Darrell Bock
No, no.
Jurrita Williams
You know [laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
You go to Europe.
Jurrita Williams
Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You go to Europe, you know that immediately.
Jurrita Williams
Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You walk in the United States, you know, a company since 1885 you go back to – in Europe and it’s we’ve been here since 1053, you know.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah, or you go to Africa.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, exactly.
Jurrita Williams
Countries in Africa and you understand how – just how young we are and I think that’s part of the going back through my genealogy, it’s so important and imperative for us to understand is because the implications are still being played out.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
So I think that’s why it’s important for us to kind of walk through it is a verbal embodiment of the history.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So this early generation, he ended up becoming a free man, a freed man I guess.
Jurrita Williams
He did.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, and people may or may not understand how slavery itself worked. I’ve been to South Africa where we kind of get on the other end of the story, if you will and how people were literally – and this was happening around the world in different places where people were literally being taken out of the context in which they lived, put on boats and brought over, and they were regarded as – more as property than as people.
Jurrita Williams
Not more as people.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yes.
Jurrita Williams
But this —
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Jurrita Williams
I mean now more – I mean absolutely chattel, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Jurrita Williams
And so chattle is capitalism, so the commodity were black bodies, and so just remembering that the imago dei, for those of us who trust in Christ and believe in the triune God, the imago dei was violated, and so on multiple levels.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And so I think reckoning with that, helping us understand that, we have to recognize that that’s the history, that’s my history and that’s American history.

It’s not just black history. It’s not just Jurrita’s history. It’s American history and that we, I think as America we can be ahistorical, and so that I think really clouds the way that we see the implications that play out in our contemporary history.

And so just remembering the middle passage, remembering the triangle of trade of black bodies didn’t just happen here in North America but throughout the diaspora, we just happen to understand what the truth is about that, and how can we restore shalom to the shalom that was violated.

Dr. Darrell Bock
And of course as I mentioned, this was happening globally.
Jurrita Williams
Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I remember I befriended this last trip to South Africa, I got to know an African pastor very, very well who ministers in the Capetown area. In fact we’ve done his testimony here on the table – you we haven’t released it yet but anyway, and he has done the same thing with his family.

He’s traced his family back and in the midst of telling the story of his family and some of his relatives, there were people who were brought over from India into Africa with the same kind of —

Jurrita Williams
That’s right.
Dr. Darrell Bock
In the same kind of way. So it’s – we sometimes think this is just an American issue but it actually was something that was going on globally and that, let’s talk a little bit about the impact of this because part of what we want to look at is the impact of what the historical story tells us and what – when people are treated not as people but as part of commerce the problem becomes the dynamics of what that means for the relationships and for the families that are involved.

Because people are moved and family units are not kept intact necessarily, et cetera, and so it produces a very – a socially disruptive way for a segment of our society to be living.

Jurrita Williams
I think that’s the part where I can personally speak into because my great-great grandfather, George Papa Gibson was sold at seven, and so his mother, the story that we have is that his mother could only give him a thread and needle.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
A needle and thread, and so if you ever see us, most of the time if we have a reunion, we have a needle and thread on our shirts because that’s the only thing that he at seven years old had when he was sold hundreds of miles away from his mother.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And so not only that but his father had nothing that he could say about it because he didn’t belong to the right family or he wasn’t seen as a man and so he couldn’t save or lead his family.

I think those are some of the things that when we’re – when we enter into evangelicalism it’s specifically white evangelicalism, and we have a certain structure of what a family should look like.

We have to go back and look at what the institution of slavery has done for us, and so when we say that it was a global institution, or is a global movement with slavery or people being enslaved, we have to remember that for America, this is the only unique country that was built on that kind of supremacy.

The only built on enslaving an entire people only or the color of their skin, not because they were spoiled from war or anything like that. It was because they were brought here for the very reason to be enslaved.

That’s it, so that’s I think the difference that we have to wrestle with, and have to ensure that we understand the difference between any other country, I think.

Dr. Darrell Bock
So he was sold into slavery at seven and then the other end of the story, I guess is that he was freed on the other end which – and so there was a family. There was a family that came out of that process.
Jurrita Williams
There was.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So the next generation was?
Jurrita Williams
So the next generation was Morgan. So he married Violet Hearns and they had six children, and of those six children, Morgan is my great-grandfather.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
And so from Morgan and Leyva Royster, they married and then they had my granddaddy, George Papa Gibson. He just left us in 2009 at 92, and so the beauty I think of how God restores and redeems even out of an evil institution like chattel slavery in America is that we thrive.

And so my great-grandfather had the opportunity to purchase land after he was free and I think that goes back too to how can the church look into some of the things that were taken from people, whole groups of people, not just individuals in order to restore and repair those systems that continue to keep people like my family enslaved and oppressed.

And so by the grace of God, even today there is Gibson Town in Tuscaloosa and there was a community that was set up by my great-grandfather Morgan and his brothers and cousins.

They built a church, an African-American church, St. Paul, that my aunt still attends.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Hmm.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah, and so I think that’s part of the framework for theology that African-Americans had. Even though there were violations of their entire beings, they still praised and worshipped the true and living God and I think that’s a theology that we have to look at in order for us to have a holistic view of what theology means in America.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And we’ll come back to this. One of the interesting features of this, this is a little side bar is thinking through how far back a person’s reach is historically. Again, we’re talking about orality.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You knew your granddad?
Jurrita Williams
I did.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so I imagine you probably had some conversations about some of your family with him.
Jurrita Williams
Absolutely, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so he, as you said he died at 92. So he goes back pretty far and the people that he knows, they go back pretty far. So what – it’s what I call the ancestral reach and orality that I had in my house, someone – she wasn’t a relative but she helped raise me, who could take me back to the latter part of the 1800’s with the stories that they were aware of.

And then my wife had a grandmother who lived to be just over 100. She could take you back almost to the Civil War, and with people she knew who lived then. I mean you know, so you know so we – it’s what I call the reach.

And the reach goes back sometimes a century or more. So it’s – it’s an interesting feature, the dynamics of how this works.

Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So let’s – so your granddad formed this community and was – came out of a Christian background. One of the interesting things that we can get into and that I think is fascinating about African-American culture is the way in which hymns work in the life of people.
Jurrita Williams
Oh, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And the types of things that are sung about and the way in which God is addressed in the midst of the situation which the African-American community found itself.
Jurrita Williams
Right.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so when you talk about worship in the midst of this, I mean you’re serious about that.
Jurrita Williams
Oh, serious indeed.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Jurrita Williams
Harriet Tubman is one of my favorite people in history and when I think about how she was a liberator, called Moses by the people who she freed, I think about people who are in my lineage.

I don’t have to go to someone like Harriet Tubman to be a hero for me, and so I remember how my grandfather, because I didn’t know his dad but how my grandfather sang and how he prayed, and that had to come from a lineage of picking cotton in the fields.

My dad, the same way. Some of the hymns that they would – they would line, they would call lining a hymn in the church, and there was a call and response that I didn’t appreciate as much when I was a child. I wish I would have drawn out of my granddaddy more than I did. He was a quiet kind of mild man, didn’t do a whole lot of talking about himself.

I’m talking about George Gibson, my mom’s dad didn’t do a whole lot of talking about himself but he shared some of the stories about what the white man did, and there was actually, yes, the man [laughter.]

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Jurrita Williams
And so there’s this innate distrust of white people for good reason and there is this – I appreciate my granddaddy because he remained AME, which was the church that he and his cousins and brothers built, St. Paul AME and —
Dr. Darrell Bock
So for people who don’t know what AME is, what is it?
Jurrita Williams
Oh, African Methodist Episcopal.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
Episcopal and that is a denomination that had to be founded because black people weren’t accepted into mainstream majority culture denominations of church and so there was a founding of – or building of that church with my great-grandfather Morgan and his brothers, and what I appreciate though about them passing on that lineage of salvation is that it just traces us back to what God calls us to do and how Jesus gave the word to the Apostles.

And the Apostles gave it to this lineage of people who continue to orate and continue to tell about the savior and continue to tell about who Jesus was, and eventually it was written down and so I – and every time I read the lineage of Christ, as we are entering into the season of Advents, I think about my own lineage and how the embodiment of who we are testifies to the history of our wounds and our pains, and also of the victories that God did bring us through.

But to see my grandfather and to hear the voice and to hear the words and they still come back to me today on so many levels in Dallas, Texas to hear those prayers that he would pray over us and how he encouraged me to enter into ministry.

He believed that I could preach the word. He did not skirt around it and so I think that the power that God brought us through, it just speaks to the grace of God, even out of the misery of a history of slavery.

Dr. Darrell Bock
So we’re a few generations in here and we’ve talked about the formation of this community really, that you’re – is grandfather was responsible for or your great-grandfather?
Jurrita Williams
Great-grandfather.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
Well, I was six, so when George Papa Gibson married Violet they came to Tuscaloosa and established this community, and so those six children received land and we still have that land today.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, so let’s move to the next generation and this is – I take it this is your – okay, I’m not sure whether we’re to your granddad or to your dad. Let’s talk about both of them, your granddad and your dad.
Jurrita Williams
Okay, so on my dad’s side?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Jurrita Williams
Okay, so we’re moving on my paternal side?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Whichever which, yeah.
Jurrita Williams
[Laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
We can shift gears.
Jurrita Williams
No problem, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Is that where the story picks up on the other side of the family?
Jurrita Williams
On the other side of the family, sure.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, all right.
Jurrita Williams
And so my dad was raised in – well, he was born in Catalpa, Alabama and raised in Demopolis, Alabama, and so my dad’s – my dad’s dad is Robert Hines and then my dad’s mother is Lucille Williams Shelton.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And so my dad wasn’t raised with his father. He never knew him. He was raised with his grandparents. He was raised with Ike and Laura Williams.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
So Ike and Laura Williams were sharecroppers, more so Ike. Laura had – hold, did she have 12 children?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Hmm.
Jurrita Williams
So this is my dad’s grandmother and grandfather.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
And so they were sharecroppers.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome back to the table. We discuss issues of God and culture. My guest is Jurrita Williams, our current Student Body President here at Dallas Theological Seminary.

We’re discussing really Jurrita’s family and her family history is kind of a lens into an African-American life in a way that helps us to understand some of the dynamics that we have faced and that we currently face in interacting with one another on a level of race, and the context of the church.

And we’re thinking through, just hearing the story and what that means and as a way of gaining some understanding about the way in which the African-American experience is different than the experience of many and so – and then how that impacts the way we interact with each other. So we were I think your granddad on your dad’s side.

Jurrita Williams
Granddad on my dad’s side.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, all right and I’m trying to keep this in my head which is [laughter] —
Jurrita Williams
You did pretty good [laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
So let’s —
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So and we were talking about sharecropping. So let’s – what you know, for people who don’t know what sharecropping is, what was sharecropping?
Jurrita Williams
Yeah, so in 1865 the institution of slavery was abolished; however, in Texas you know, it came a little later.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
But there’s still ways to keep black people continually oppressed and really enslaved, and so sharecropping was a part of that. The 40 acres and a mule that was promised to people who were enslaved, who were black were promised 40 acres and a mule.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And some of them received that from the government. I think about a million maybe may have received those reparations but at the same time there were millions that did not receive anything.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
However, those who did receive those 40 acres were told that they would have to give that land back and they had to move off of that land, and if they refused or if they said that they wouldn’t move or if they were gonna stand their ground, they were removed by the government.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And so that land, they said one of the first acts that Andrew Jackson at the time, the president at the time said that one of the first amendments that he made was for them to return that land to his previous owners.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And so that started a —
Dr. Darrell Bock
So it was given and taken away?
Jurrita Williams
Given and taken away, yeah and you know for those of us who understand autonomy of economics, land is definitely a part of that, and so owning the land for African-Americans was imperative for us to start to build our own autonomy in economics.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And so we spent two hundred and twenty odd-years enslaved , working the lands of white owners, people who were enslaving people who were black and they were – so they had to give that land back.

And so my grandfather ended up being one of those who shared the crops and so the man who owned the land was a white man and he had all of the supplies and he had everything that my grandfather needed in order to work the land, and so he was being paid but he would always be paid in imbalance.

And so year after year, my grandfather was working to get out of this debt that he could never get out, or my great-grandfather was attempting to work out of this debt to get out of .

Dr. Darrell Bock
So in effect he was – make sure I understand this, in effect he was renting the supplies —
Jurrita Williams
He was renting the supplies.
Dr. Darrell Bock
— and he needed to raise, and it was done at a level in which he couldn’t keep up with the size of the rent.
Jurrita Williams
Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Renting the materials by what he was able to earn.
Jurrita Williams
And also renting the house.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
So the home that they lived on was on the land of —
Dr. Darrell Bock
So it was everything?
Jurrita Williams
Absolute – their whole livelihood was on that really plantation still.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And so my dad was one of the – one of the grandchildren that was raised with them and they had 12 children of their own, and so they would work the cotton fields and I remember my dad, one of the stories that I remember that he tells more often than the others is he remembered one year at the end of the year.

They picked 13 bales and they were supposed to be paid for 13 bales and the man who owned the property told them they only had two, and so those are the kind of things I think that when we’re talking about contemporary implications.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
Had my great-grandfather been paid, had my great-grandfather come out of debt and been dealt with honestly, then there’s no – there’s no story that could be written, that could have the trajectory of where our family could be now.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now I take it that the way in which this worked as is that he said you only picked two, but this became part of what he then turned around and sold, so that he got the remaining 11, if I’m doing my math right.
Jurrita Williams
[Laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so it’s a double injustice.
Jurrita Williams
And I think back to what the Lord says in Micah 6:8 and the book of Proverbs, you know unjust waits, and these aren’t just people who are – who don’t know or who don’t proclaim to be Christians.

These are people who are deacons in churches, pastors who continued to enslave my great-great grandfather on my mom’s side and my great-grandfather as a sharecropper and so these are the – these are the implications of a black American woman who lives with this story every single day of her life.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Right, and you talked earlier about the distrust that sometimes exists and that’s where it comes from.
Jurrita Williams
Right, absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Jurrita Williams
And we talk – in my family, we talk about segregation and integration, what they did and we moved forward a little bit in that that later I guess but you know, we think about how we had communities because we were – we had to, communities of black people who were doing their thing; who had their – we had our own banks, had our own grocery stories.

We have our own businesses, funeral homes because we were segregated. We – it was the law.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
It was the law for black people to not read. My great-grandfather, Ike’s wife Laura, she never read.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
She didn’t know how to read or write but she knew the Lord. My dad, now that’s an oral tradition. My dad always talks about too. He said she may not have known how to read or write her name but she knew the name of the Lord.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And I think that those are the things that when we – when we’re walking through what theology is, when we’re walking through what reparations should look like, we’re thinking through the actual stories of people. It’s not – we’re not numbers, theories and —
Dr. Darrell Bock
Right.
Jurrita Williams
— we’re not monolithic either. My story isn’t like everybody’s story.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right, fair enough.
Jurrita Williams
And so I’m helping us. I’m hoping to help us as a church to really look at what God says and to really look at people as people, individuals as well as corporately and really look at the systems, because that was a system that was done by the government.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Jurrita Williams
It wasn’t something that you know, just one or two people did. It was an actual system. Laws were passed in order to continue to subjugate black Americans.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, I mean our point in of course doing this is to put a face on all this, to become familiar with a story that I think many people don’t and have never heard this side of, and who don’t understand what stands underneath certain words.

You know, they’ve heard about slavery but to actually think about what that involved; they may have heard about sharecropping but they may not understand what that actually involved, and here are people who lived through it.

This was their daily existence and to see this happening on a regular basis and to watch it happen, and what that does in creating dysfunctional relationships really, and so that’s why we’re telling the story.

Okay. So we’ve got your – we’ve got – I think we’ve got your granddads on both sides of your family covered. Let’s go to your parents on both sides of your family.

Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So again, mother’s side or father’s side?
Jurrita Williams
[Laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
You get to make the call.
Jurrita Williams
Well, I’ll start with my dad, since we started with my mom.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
My mom’s side first – we landed on my dad last.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Jurrita Williams
So my dad, like I say, he grew up with his grandparents and it’s – I’ll start with the story actually of something that I just posted actually on my Instagram for Thanksgiving, which is being grateful and I took a picture of this log stack that my dad did, and he did this every year that I was growing up.

He has a lot of firewood in the back of our home because he loves fire and so do I, and I took a picture of that because it reminds me of his work ethic, which he learned on a plantation really from his grandfather but that’s the work ethic that has helped him and allowed him to be who he is today, and so my dad met my mom in Birmingham, Alabama.

So my dad – his friend was dating my mom’s sister and they ended up meeting when they were picked up. So when we think about this, I want us to think about the segregation that was in place at the time. My parents were – or my mom’s, my mom and her sister and her, and my grandmother went to go pick up my dad and my dad’s friend who is now my uncle – or who is my uncle and they were drinking still out of colored water fountains and white water fountains.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, now I lived – I may not look it but I go back that far.
Jurrita Williams
[Laughter.]
Dr. Darrell Bock
So go ahead.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah, so when we were thinking about this, my mom and my dad are – they’re courting and they’re having to court in a system that segregates them from people who look like you, and so they’re not able to move as freely as you would as a white American but they met and my dad was drafted into – well they met while he was in the Army but he was drafted into the Army and so he went to Vietnam in I think ’68 or ’69.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, I remember the picture that you showed of him in his military uniform in chapel.
Jurrita Williams
And that’s one thing I also wanted to just celebrate with my father and my dad. Many times when we think about veterans, we don’t think about black veterans. We don’t think about a man, my father, who was drafted by a government who continued to keep him segregated.

And I remember him telling the story about him returning from Vietnam. He said when he left, the signs were up that you know, colored restrooms, colored water fountains, white water fountains, white restrooms, but when he returned, the signs had come down that – he returned in ’70 and then he married my mom in August of ’70.

And so I remember him saying the signs had come down visibly but it was still an invisible you know your place and so much so that he received a job. He got a job – not received it.

He got a job at a meat packing company, and he and a white co-worker had gone to get lunch and when he got to the establishment, they told the white man that he can get his lunch at the counter here but he, my dad had to go to the back of the establishment to get his lunch.

And so now the laws had been passed; Jim Crow, Jane Crow were supposedly to be abolished but the invisible systems —

Dr. Darrell Bock
The practices remained.
Jurrita Williams
— were still there.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, I’m sure you know who Dorothy Burton is who graduated this seminary and she’s told – she grew up in East Texas and she tells almost the exact same story —
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
— about when she went to get meals and that the white people would come in the front.
Jurrita Williams
Right.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And the blacks were at the back door and that was how they got – that was how they were fed at the restaurant. So it’s – you know it’s actually amazing to realize that it has gone on and has gone on in some cases, is going on that long.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That it’s still the case. I’m aware of numerous stories like the one that you’ve told where here the whites go in the front door and the blacks are in a different place.

So – and the irony of that of course is the fact that here is your dad, as you said, drafted by the government, fought in – I take it in Vietnam.

Jurrita Williams
In Vietnam.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And fighting for the very freedoms that we’re talking about and this is what he comes home to.
Jurrita Williams
And see these are the receipts that I’m hoping America understands because not only is it the government but the integration and the conflation I think of the government in religion, and the government in Christianity.

And I’m hoping that not just white Americans but that all of us would have a firm understanding, a better grasp of the history in order for us to point to Christ, in order for us to decentralize whiteness and to centralize Christ in order for the body to move forward.

And so I’m thinking about some of the missionaries and some of the theologians that we hail that enslaved people who look like me, and so my dad is coming back home to a home where in the world, he didn’t have to be segregated.

He didn’t have to be separated but when he returned home, you know, he’s returning home to a segregated Alabama and I remember – you know this is only about six or seven years removed from 1963, you know when Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King is jailed in Birmingham.

These eight clergymen, white clergymen, they’re telling him follow the law, follow the order and the law at that time was black people, you are still inferior; black people, you are separated, separate but equal.

And I remember mom just – we were just talking about this the other day that that separate but equal, when they were – and their schools were in outhouses sometimes.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Right.
Jurrita Williams
Their schools were – they didn’t receive the same amount of funds and that still continues today in our educational systems.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right, yeah.
Jurrita Williams
You know, and so what we have to remember is that this isn’t something that’s in the vacuum. Where we’re living today isn’t in a vacuum. This happened strategically and intentionally in order for a particular group to remain in power and a particular group to remain oppressed and subjugated.

And so you know when my father’s coming back home into these systems, it’s not far removed from George Wallace standing in the door of the University of Alabama, 5.5 miles from where I grew up, and that was only 14 years before I was born.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And so when we’re thinking through those things, this is the subculture that Jurrita lives in every single day.
Dr. Darrell Bock
See, and I remember growing up and watching all of that happen on television.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I mean you know, we – I was in Texas but we – you know the whole Civil Rights movement unfolded in my – as I was hitting my teen years basically.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And just watching that happen and trying to come to grips with – and I did not grow up in a Christian home but just trying to come to grips with the way people would treat other people.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And there was a sense of there’s something here that’s not right. You know it’s just there’s something off and so in the context of the church where we are the great reconciliation passage probably in the New Testament is Ephesians 2:11-22 where you watch Jew and Gentile who had a history of great division.

I mean Gentiles tried to wipe the Jewish religion off the face of the map, not – and we’re not talking about the Holocaust here. This is back in the Maccabean War and so – and yet here is Christ coming in and saying no, Jews and Gentiles, we’re designed by God in his program of salvation to live and work together.

Jurrita Williams
That’s right.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And to – and I love the little – there’s a little Greek prefix. So you’re gonna smile when I say it, there’s a little Greek prefix, syn.
Jurrita Williams
syn, I knew it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
[Laughter.]
Jurrita Williams
[Laughter] yes, when?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, it’s coming syn but it doesn’t mean it’s coming soon.
Jurrita Williams
It means coming syn, that’s right.
Dr. Darrell Bock
It means it’s coming together, and so you’re sitting here talking about how God can take broken hearts and meld them together with enough mutual respect and sensibility, and sensitivity, and listening and engagement that they actually do begin to work to come together, and to see and respond to the things that are going no in such a way that the whole body of Christ is affirmed.
Jurrita Williams
Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so I think it’s an important part of the overall story to think through that and to face up to the fact that there are things that still go on that are reflections of what has gone on because most people have made a move, I think in their minds that we have moved out of that but —
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
— and it’s one of those we have and we haven’t. Some things have changed.
Jurrita Williams
Mmm-hmm.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Signs came down, okay but some things have not changed; the separation still exists.
Jurrita Williams
Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so that’s part of what’s important in thinking through the awareness of what we’re talking about here. So we’re talking about your dad. What about you mom?
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You’ve mentioned her in some conversations.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So I take it y’all have talked a lot about this stuff?
Jurrita Williams
Oh, absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, see this is the experience of me growing up in Alabama, growing up with parents who was not afraid of our history, who is not ashamed of our history, who made sure my siblings and I understood exactly who we are and where we came from and so I have – I have a mother who loves history and I have a father who loves history and appreciates where we’ve been and where we are now.

And I just wanted to say about my parents courting in a system that really would try to keep them apart, really doesn’t celebrate black love, really doesn’t celebrate being married.

And you have to remember too that in the institution of slavery, it wasn’t even legal for black people to be married in the system of government, and so I’m just remembering those things and God bringing my parents together.

I think it’s a beautiful tapestry of his grace and his mercy but yeah, I remember George Wallace standing – I don’t remember but George Wallace standing in the door but he also for his inaugural address said that segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever, and that reminds me of Scripture. It reminds me of Jesus Christ today, yesterday and forever.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yes, I actually heard that speech, yeah.
Jurrita Williams
Yeah, and so my parents are growing up and they’re right there in Alabama. It’s not that’s something that’s removed and so my mother when doc – I mean not doctor but George Wallace stood in that door of the University of Alabama, my mother was going to Stillman College which is an African-American or HBCU, historically black college and university, and those were established because we couldn’t get into University of Alabama.

It’s not because we weren’t qualified to get into it and remember, it was illegal for slaves to read or write, and so the qualification, see these are the systems that can keep you out.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly, yeah.
Jurrita Williams
And so the qualifications to get into a University of Alabama, of course you couldn’t get in because the educational system was imbalanced.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mmm-hmm.
Jurrita Williams
And so my mother went to Stillman College and she ended up – when she was pregnant with me, she ended up going to the University of Alabama and she got her graduate degree or second graduate degree actually when she was pregnant with me.

And so I think about that and I think about my mom and how she loves education, how she made sure that my parents – I mean my siblings and I did well I school and she got that from her dad; her dad and her mom, they made sure that their children, my dad – my granddad worked I think about 40, I think she said about 47, 48 years at the particular trucking company that he worked for and he made sure that every time tuition was due for my mom and her sisters and her brother, that they had their part and my mom does the same with me [laughter.]

When I ask her about DTS and how am I gonna get to the next semester, she says well, where’s your part?

Dr. Darrell Bock
[Laughter.]
Jurrita Williams
[Laughter.] And so but the – I think the tradition of working, the tradition of you have to do your part as well is definitely instilled in us but when we think about that, we have to also think about the systems that intended to make sure we didn’t get an education.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Right.
Jurrita Williams
And so that’s like I said, 5.5 miles I grew up from, around the corner from the University of Alabama, and my mom had a significant part in who we were in understanding those significances.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You know, it’s interesting, we’re rapidly running out of time.
Jurrita Williams
Oh, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Which is a little bit unfortunate but it strikes me in many ways how fortunate you’ve been to have the kind of pedigree that you have, that was – that persevered in the midst of all the things that we’ve been talking about which wasn’t the – which isn’t and wasn’t the case for many.
Jurrita Williams
Exactly, sure, I understand that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so the way the structure worked is that a lot of people got beat down in the structure and in a way that was not healthy and didn’t allow for the personal development and the personal flourishing, and the way in which they contributed their full potential, not just for their own lives but for the sake of people around them.

And so Jurrita, I really do thank you for coming in and telling us your story and actually, I’m realizing we only got a part and bits and pieces.

Jurrita Williams
Oh, sure.
Dr. Darrell Bock
But they are significant bits and pieces. They’re tasty morsels, if you will of what’s going on.
Jurrita Williams
[Laughter] yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And I hope that people have sensed the kind of conversation that we’ve having that puts a face on what we’re talking about and it’s part of what we’re doing on campus, it’s part of what we’re trying to do to help understand one another and create a kind of mutual understanding and respect for one another that allows us to show our oneness in Christ, and I thank you for helping us do that.
Jurrita Williams
Thank you, Dr. Bock, I appreciate it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And we thank you for being a part of The Table and we hope you enjoyed it.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Jurrita Williams
Jurrita Williams is a ThM student at DTS from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and is a former educator and youth pastor.  She lives to take the truths of Scripture and curate a story that tells the Story. Her heart burns for Christ as her Savior and loves abiding as a catalyst in assisting others in joining her enkindled journey with Him.  Jurrita is the first woman to serve as DTS student council president (2017-2018).
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