Can Anything Good Come Out of Troy?
By Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder.
There is a theology of geography. There is a connection between space and fate. There is something unspoken that connects destiny with places, places with people. Towns and cities do not surface with notoriety. Sometimes the most unexpected places produce the most extraordinary people.
Before August 9, 2014, there was little talk on social media or the news cycle about a place called Ferguson, Missouri. Today #BlackLivesMatter and #Ferguson are ubiquitous because of the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager. A white police officer killed Brown after a verbal and physical altercation. The six hours his lifeless body lay in the street paint a timeless picture of this tragedy. Visuals of blood spewing from Brown’s body colored Ferguson. Recently citizens there elected its first Black woman mayor, Ella Jones
The city of Selma, Alabama was founded in 1820 as a core trade center. Its location on the Alabama River would make way for prime exchange of goods. Yet, some two hundred years later, the commercial flame in Selma is just a flicker. Over 55 years since newsworthy marches over the Edmund Pettus Bridge shined a bright light on this city, reports are Selma still looks dim and defeated.
Horrible scenes of hoses and horses colliding with human flesh catapulted this small town onto the big stage. Who could have imagined that a city with a miniscule population would change the lens through which millions viewed racial equality and the right to vote. Now Selma is synonymous not with trade or business, but it is the place that gave birth to Bloody Sunday.
Images from Bloody Sunday show a small Black man with profound features and backpack in tow standing on the front lines. This man is the late Congressman John Lewis. Lewis grew up in a town eighty miles southeast of Selma, a place called Troy, Alabama. Who would have imagined anything of this stature coming from Troy?
Many tributes, accolades, articles abound since the Congressman’s death on July 17th. However, I must admit I am always curious about the unnoticed spouses or partners of such notables. In this culture of #SayHerName, I call the name of Lillian Miles Lewis.
Lillian Miles was not from Ferguson, Selma, or Troy, but she is credited as having been the strategist to launch her husband’s national platform. Her lifelong interests in international affairs, particularly in Africa, were the seeds in the soil of John Lewis’ broader career. Miles herself was no stranger to politics having served as a 1972 Democratic National Convention delegate. She was an avid supporter of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s presidential candidacy.
Additionally it was the acumen of Lillian Miles Lewis that guided John Lewis’ initial bid for Congress for 1977. Although he lost, she continued to serve as the chief architect and advisor during his successful runs for Atlanta City Council and ultimately Congress in 1986. Lewis furthered her imprint on local and international affairs while overseeing the International Affairs and Development at Atlanta University and later as director of external affairs in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Clark Atlanta University. She preceded her husband in death in 2012.
Lillian Miles Lewis hailed from Los Angeles. Her big city planning, advising and strategizing, helped to put a little boy from Troy onto the national spotlight.
In the bible, the Gospel of John records Nathanael asking, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth (1:46)?” The disciple is inquiring of another disciple, Philip, about the pedigree of Jesus. Jesus, the one whom Christians proclaim as “Lord,” “Savior,” “Redeemer,” hailed from a lowly town. Nazareth was an insignificant farming town totaling no more than ten acres. Nonetheless, like the marchers in Selma, Michael Brown in Ferguson, this Messiah too gave his blood for the sins of the world.
Who dares to ask, “Can anything good come out of Ferguson, out of Selma, or out of Troy?”
Yes, something good did come from Troy. The blood shed at Selma, including that of Congressman John Lewis, propelled the 1965 Voting Rights Act. One of the Congressman’s last official acts was to preside over the House vote on the Voting Rights Advancement Act. This Act would renew voter protection erased in 2013.
Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip responds, “Come and see (John 1:46).” Nazareth, Selma, Ferguson, and Troy beckon us to come and see. Come and see the small beginnings. Come and see the historical endings. Little places produce big people. Persons from small towns can go on to enact significant change. They are able to do so with others behind the scenes crafting each step. Can anything noteworthy, memorable, important come out of Nazareth? Selma? Ferguson? Troy? The story of Lillian Miles Lewis and John Lewis offers a resounding, “Yes!”
Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder is an author, minister, and Bible and pop culture educator. She serves as Vice President of Academic Affairs/Academic Dean and Associate Professor New Testament Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary. Dr. Crowder earned a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude in Speech Pathology/Audiology from Howard University; a Master of Divinity degree from United Theological Seminary, and Master of Arts and Ph.D. degrees in Religion from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Crowder was a Fund for Theological Education Dissertation Fellow, Wabash Center for Teaching Fellow and Louisville Institute Summer Grant recipient. She has contributed to The Covenant Bible Study and Video Series and True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary, and most recently Parenting as Spiritual Practice and Source for Theology.
She served on the Editorial Boards of ON Scripture and Feasting on the Gospels and blogs for The Huffington Post and Inside in Higher Education. Her article on yoga can be found in the Disciples Women magazine. Dr. Crowder was a keynote speaker for the 2015 Festival of Faiths, 2017 Hampton University Ministers’ Conference and inducted in the Morehouse College Collegium of Scholars (2017). Her second book is When Momma Speaks: The Bible and Motherhood From a Womanist Perspective.
Dr. Crowder is married to Rev. Dr. William E. Crowder, Jr. They have two sons who keep this #SportsMomma and #WomanistMomma on the move. Learn more via @stepbcrowder (Twitter) or via www.drsbuckhanonc.com.