What’s love got to do with it?

Published 4:01 pm Monday, February 19, 2024

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As I sat in Spring Garden Baptist Church listening to our beloved Pastor Aaron Lewis share God’s word with the congregation about loving people, he carefully taught us from the Scriptures of Matthew Chapter 5:43-44, where Jesus said “ye have heard that it was said, love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I say unto to you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you and do good to them that hate you and pray for them that despitefully use you.” I thought to myself, only the power of God can help us do that.

Then I was reminded of an incident where a neighbor of mine taught me a precious lesson on doing just that. I was blessed to have so many role models growing up and Mr. James Rufus Barrow was one of them. He came to mind as I thought about loving thy enemy.

Mr. Barrow was a wonderful and vital member of our community. He was a leader in every sense of the word. He was a Civil Rights leader and a very active and important member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which is an African American civil rights organization led by iDr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was based in Atlanta and had field leaders all over the south. Mr. Barrow was one of those leaders and organized civil rights events here in Washington. The organization was despised and derided by Alabama Governor George C. Wallace, who was a staunch segregationist. Wallace vowed “segregation forever!” as he stood and blocked the door to keep Black students from enrolling in the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963.

Before desegregation was the law in Washington, Mr. Barrow wanted his children Maranda and James to have a better-quality education that he felt the Black school was not providing. He petitioned the Washington City School Board to let them attend John Cotton Tayloe, an all-white school. He was denied. In late 1964, the issue came up again. Finally in January 1965, the Washington City school board found it was in danger of losing Federal funding if it did not comply, since schools that practiced segregation were not eligible. In the face of a pending lawsuit, school officials were informed at a meeting in Raleigh, the Washington City Schools had to admit Black students. Seven children whose parents wanted them to go to all white schools in Washington were admitted that year. James and Maranda were two of them.

Knowing that Gov. Wallace despised these kind of remedies Mr. Barrow remained prayerful. After Gov. Wallace was shot five times during a presidential campaign rally in Maryland in 1972, Mr. Barrow sent him a telegram that read “Even though I am not in sympathy with many of your ideas, I respect your sincerity and rights to express these ideas. The tragic thing that happened to you is not the American way I know and love. This incident is reminiscent of coups in foreign lands and distasteful to our make-up. May God grant you a speedy recovery.” James Rufus Barrow. This was the first time I had witnessed these powerful Scriptures lived out. I am forever grateful for that lesson. What’s love got to do with it? Jesus.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.