Ruth Lampkin's Story
I was born and raised on a plantation in a small rural community in Anguilla, Mississippi located in the delta when cotton was king. Some descriptions of life in Delta were hard-living, dirt poor, oppressive, racist, and poverty-stricken, but to me, it was home. The quote by Charles Dickens, In the Tale of Two Cities, sums it up best, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” We lived in a four-room house with twelve people. My grandmother called it a shack; there was no indoor plumbing, no inside toilet, and one wooden heater to keep us warm in the winter. We did not own a vehicle; so, we walked mostly everywhere we went. Jesus lived in our house because he lived in our hearts. I saw His strength and love in my family, community, and my church.
I grew up in an extended family of twelve-all of us, lovingly, snuggled together in a shack which included my mother, grandfather, and grandmother, my two sisters, one brother and five cousins which consisted of one girl and four boys and me. Even though we were cousins, we thought of each other as sister-brother cousins. My grandfather worked on the plantation in the cotton fields. He died when I was in the fifth grade which left my mother, a divorcee, as the sole bread winner for a household of eleven people. She worked forty hours a week for forty dollars a week, but she never complained. She believed God would provide, and He did. My grandmother, like most women her age, could not read or write. But her knowledge was intuitive and perceptive guided by wisdom. She could predict the weather by her aching joints or bones; she could look at a woman’s eyes and tell if she was pregnant; she knew whether you were a friend or foe just by being in your presence. Like many of her friends, she memorized scripture and loved quoting it to chastise, correct or make a point. My mother and grandmother were two of the greatest teachers in my life by the example they set-that pointed me to Christ. They taught me that prayer was the keystone to a relationship with Christ. My mother sat by her bed reading the bible every night; then she would get on her knees and pray, sometimes for a very long time. My grandmother took long walks through the cotton field when she wanted to be along with God. I learned to pray by watching them, and people in my church.
As a child, I prayed at bedtime, saying grace, and in Sunday School, but my first prayer that I remember was one out of desperation at the age of five. I had a friend named Cozy Ann who came over every day to play with my sisters and me. She was six years my junior. She was very pretty with two long, curly ponytails. She also had three sisters we played with, but I do not remember their names, maybe because every little girl my age doted on Cozy Ann. One morning, I awoke to voices that sounded frantic on the front porch. I got up and went to see what was going on, and I saw my grandmother sitting in a chair on the porch wiping tears from her eyes while other people from the community was standing in the yard. There was a deep sorrow that was overwhelming. My grandmother told me what had happened. I looked down the road, and I saw smoke where Cozy Ann house use to be. Her house was gone. And so was Cozy Ann and her sisters, burned to death in a suspicious fire. This was the first time I became aware that kids could die and that I could die; I felt I was on a merry-go-round that was going too fast. The only thing I could think of was, “I am too young to die.” I was sad, scared and confused. So, I ran to get on my knees and pray to God. I prayed and cried fervently that day. I will never forget the helplessness and hopelessness I felt. First, I asked God to never let us die; somehow, I knew that was not possible, so I asked God to let my family and me live a long time, and I told him I wanted to get religion meaning I wanted to become a Christian first, so I could go to heaven. Little did I know this was the beginning of many prayers out of affliction and desperation.
During this time, Rose Hill Baptist Church stood as a beacon of hope and faith for the community. Everyone that lived within a ten-mile radius attended the same church. It was also a time of social injustices and uncertainty. The Klu Klux Klan was unbridled. As a child, we had to walk to the store sometimes through the cotton fields to avoid them trying to run us off the road or hit us with their trucks. They instilled fear, burned crosses in yards and made threats-some they carried out. Sixteen-year-old Haney Mays was a neighbor, and the brother of my childhood friend, Hazel. One-day Haney allegedly stole gym shoes from the country club where he worked. He was arrested, and hanged from the county jail; my sister’s sixth-grade classmate Jenny Willis’ mother decided to exercise her right to vote. Days later, there was a knock at her door, Jenny answered, and a bullet from a gun pierced through her left eye. They left A cross burning in the yard all because her mother voted. The Jim Crow law enforced racial segregation-from water fountains to bathrooms-but there was no equality. Amid the fear, and uncertainty, my grandmother would say, “if we are going to take our stand with Jesus, we need to be on the same ground He’s standing on.” There were times it felt as though there was a daily choice to love or hate. But my mother and grandmother and the church kept saying and modeling in everyday living, “bless when you want to curse, love when you want to hate.” We could not legally go inside a white owned restaurant where Whites were eating. We had to order food at a window on the outside even in the rain or cold. When it was mandatory for schools to segregate, Mississippi was the last to do so. There was an all-white public high school near us, but the Superintendent of Education said that African Americans would never enter that school as long as he lived. He was right. The school stayed closed for over ten years until 1979 and after his death. Until then, we were transported to a high school in another district.
Many Sundays at Church, we would hear someone say, “This is not our home we are pilgrims passing through; we are soldiers in God’s army.” We had prayer meetings on Wednesday nights which I loved because I knew when the prayer meeting was over, hearts buried in affliction going in would reign with peace and love coming out. We also had covenant meetings every second Sunday when members of the church declared their devotion to Christ as Lord over their life, and each person verbally made a commitment to continue to follow and obey God’s will. Even as a child, my heart was glad for these meetings; on occasions, I could feel the presence of Jesus. But it seemed as though these meeting spurred us on in Christ.
I learned fellowship with Christ leads to a desire to connect with others. When I was in high School, I taught Bible study at Carey Christian Center. One summer, an all-white missionary group came from Iowa. It included teenagers and college students who invited African Americans to join them in a one-week retreat. At the time, this was no easy feat. There were only two people to volunteer, and I was one of them. This was the first time I would interact with a white person on a personal level-all contact was impersonal (for instance, going to the store when making a purchase, we had to place money on the counter. It was an unspoken rule no physical contact, not even touching a white person’s hand).
For the first time in my life, I saw people beyond skin color. It amazed me how I could know someone for only a week and love them for an eternity. That retreat felt like a small piece of heaven. Norma, LuAnn, Pam, and I were like sisters. They were white, and I was black. Everyone from the retreat attended my church and met people in my community. They entered my world and wanted to know my community. They attended our church on Sunday and were welcomed with open arms. The pastor asked if they had a song to sing. And they sang “Kum Ba Yah.” Afterwards, they received a standing ovation. At the end of the retreat, everyone was in tears; it was difficult to say good-bye. I was in the backseat of the car looking back crying and waving as they were crying and waving, and I remembered thinking, God loves me the same. God answered a question I did not know I was asking. I realized deep down that I thought God loved white people more than He loved African Americans. Within one week for me, God grew bigger and greater in my heart and soul.
I was able to attend college through grants. Unfortunately, I did not nurture my life in Christ while in college. I attended Church, but my relationship with Christ suffered because of disobedience which led to a world centered life instead of Christ-centered. I became pregnant. My family and Church overwhelmed me with compassion, forgiveness, and love. An elderly woman in my church told me, “being pregnant is not the sin; it was what you did to get pregnant is the sin.” It was as though Christ, the Shepherd, held his wayward sheep (me) in His arms after running away. It was love beyond anything I could explain. I got back on the right track finished school and moved to Gaithersburg, MD. I found a church in D.C to attend because I did not know of any African American Churches in Gaithersburg. My friend from college who was black and from Mississippi asked me to attend a church with her in Gaithersburg. She told me it was a white church. We hesitantly went together; although, were not sure about how we would be received. However, the people welcomed us with open arms. It eventually became my home for nearly twenty-years. But I must say I was there for a long time before I was able to comfortably form a relationship with White people. I worked with White people and went to lunch with them, and I was invited to their homes but managed to find some excuse not to go; although, I wanted to go at each invitation, but I didn’t know what to say. To tell the truth, I was not comfortable speaking in front of white people even at work. When I joined the Church of Redeemer, I attended a Bible Study Class and was asked to read aloud; I did, and my voice started trembling. Afterwards, the teacher said, laughing in a heartfelt tone, “I thought you were not going to finish.” He had no way of knowing my voice trembled because they were white, and I was nervous around them. Until this day I do not know why I would get nervous around white people. I finally accepted an invitation to be part of a women’s discussion group, mostly white. What a realization that was almost shocking, we were truly all the same. Each lady walked away from that group transformed in Christ with an ever-increasing glory. Having a relationship with my white brothers and sisters in Christ has caused the eyes of my heart to see people as He sees people. God has made me comfortable with all people. The very issues in life that have vexed my soul, He has used for His glory, and I praise Him.