The Koinonia Connection

Koinonia sign

Koinonia Farm was founded in 1942 when two couples, Clarence and Florence Jordan and Martin and Mabel England, purchased 440 acres of agricultural land in southwest Georgia, 40 miles north of Albany.  Inspired by the example of the first Christian communities described in the New Testament, they set about creating an intentional, interracial communitywhere wealth would be shared in a common purse and where blacks and whites could live, work, and worship together in a spirit of equality.  The name they chose for their community was Koinonia, a Greek word for “fellowship.”

Based on their interpretation of the New Testament, the Farm’s members committed to the following principles:

  1. Treat all human beings with dignity and justice;
  2. Choose love over violence;
  3. Share all possessions and live simply; and
  4. Be stewards of the land and its natural resources.

Walley&Juanita Nelson-Ernest&MarionBromley-RevMcCrackin

Because of the racial mixing at Koinonia and because of Clarence Jordan’s many sermons and writings opposing racism, materialism, and militarism, local businesses started boycotting Koinonia in 1956.  This boycott continued into the late 1960s.  The Ku Klux Klan pursued a more violent path, firing guns into Koinonia’s buildings, torching the farm’s roadside market stand, and threatening increased violence unless the Koinonians agreed to sell their land and leave. They refused.

Maurice McCrackin

A nationwide network of American pacifists and civil rights activists came to Koinonia’s aid, among them Dorothy Day, Wally and Juanita Nelson,

Myles Horton, and Maurice McCrackin. They helped to establish Friends of Koinonia, a national network to raise money for Koinonia and to market the farm’s pecans and other agricultural products outside of the South. For a time, Bob Swann served as the chairman of this network.

Between 1956 and 1968, the men and women who created New Communities Inc., the inspiration for every CLT that followed, were also regular visitors to Koinonia Farm.  Millard Fuller & Clarence JordanThey included Slater King, C.B. King, Bob Swann, Fay Bennett, and Charles Sherrod.  The Rev. Maurice McCrackin, a pacifist minister from Cincinnati who was instrumental in establishing the first urban community land trust in 1980, was an early visitor as well, and a long-time friend of Clarence Jordan’s.

In August 1968, the month after Slater King and Bob Swann returned from their trip to Israel, excited at the possibility of creating something similar to the moshav in the American South, they were invited to Koinonia by Clarence Jordan, along with thirteen other trusted advisers.  He and Millard Fuller wanted to discuss a new direction for Koinonia.

Two months later, on October 21, 1968, Clarence Jordan mailed a mimeographed letter to some 2000 Friends of Koinonia, announcing three bold initiatives for Koinonia’s Koinonia Partnersministry.  One of them was Koinonia Partners, a vehicle for developing cooperatively owned enterprises and individually owned houses on land leased from a nonprofit entity, which Clarence called the Fund for Humanity.

Given his relationship with the activists then engaged in creating New Communities, it is not surprising that some of the “partnership principles” put forward by Jordan closely resembled operational components later incorporated into the community land trust model.  In his October letter, he declared that “all land will be held in trust by the Fund for Humanity, but will be used by the partners free of charge. Thus, usership will replace ownership.”

Over the next year, as King, Swann, and their colleagues laid the foundation for a planned community on leased land, Jordan beat them to it.  Before New Communities was even Harvesting at Koinoniaincorporated, he deeded all of Koinonia’s land to a newly created nonprofit, the Fund For Humanity.  Although the first housing completed by Koinonia Partners was constructed on lots that had previously been sold by Koinonia Farm, the next 22 houses were developed according to Clarence’s “partnership principles.”  The land underneath was owned by the Fund for Humanity and leased for a nominal fee to the families buying these houses.

The intriguing question that is raised by the “Koinonia Connection” is who was influenced by whom?  Were Clarence Jordan’s “partnership principals” partially a product of the lessons learned by Slater King and Bob Swann in Israel, as they were studying the moshav communities and land leases associated with the Jewish National Fund?  Or were King and Swann led to agricultural cooperatives, interracial settlements, and community ownership of land as a result of their regular association with Koinonia Farm and their spirited conversations with Clarence Jordan?

Slater King was killed in an automobile accident in April 1969, soon after being elected to the presidency of New Communities.  He was 42 years old.  In October of that same year, Clarence Jordan died of a heart attack at age 57, while working on a sermon in his writing shack at Koinonia Farm.  Charles Sherrod became the president of New Communities.  Millard Fuller took over the leadership of Koinonia Partners and Koinonia Partnership Housing, precursors to Habitat for Humanity.

Key Dates

1942:  Clarence & Florence Jordan and Martin & Mable England purchase 440 acres of rural land in southwest Georgia, laying the foundation for Koinonia Farm.

1956:  Boycott begins of Koinonia products by the local business community, continuing until the mid-1960s.  Two Peacemakers from Cincinnati, Wally Nelson and Maurice McCrackin, visit Koinonia Farm to offer support.  A planned interracial summer camp at Koinonia Farm is blocked by a judge.  Myles Horton’s son invites Koinonia to hold their summer camp at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle TN.

Dorothy Day1957:  Dorothy Day, pacifist founder of the Catholic Worker, visits Koinonia Farm for two weeks during the summer.  The Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA) is formed.  According to Bob Swann, Clarence Jordan attends “one of the early organizational meetings for CNVA,” which is probably where Swann and Jordan meet for the first time.  Peacemakers in Cincinnati provide support for Koinonia.  Wally and Juanita Nelson go to live at Koinonia for four months.  C.B. King, Slater King and their wives, Carol and Marion, begin visiting Koinonia Farm for weekend dinners.  Friends of Koinonia is established to provide national support for the farm in the face of the continuing boycott of Koinonia’s products by local businesses.  Bob Swann later serves as the national chairman.

1958:  Rev. Maurice McCrackin invites Clarence Jordon to the Community Church of Cincinnati to tell the story of Koinonia Farm to his congregation in the West End.  Dorothy Swisshelm, a member of McCrackin’s church, moves to Koinonia Farm.

1959:  Clarence Jordan writes a letter of support to Rev. Maurice McCrackin, as he begins serving a sentence for tax resistance at the Allenwood Federal Prison Farm.  After Marjorie Swann’s release from prison, having completed a sentence for civil disobedience at a Minuteman missile site in Nebraska, she and Bob Swann take a six-week trip to the South, which includes visits to the Celo Community in North Carolina and Koinonia Farm in Georgia.

1960:  Soon after the Swann family settles at the CNVA farm in Voluntown CT, Bob Swann is invited by Clarence Jordan to visit Koinonia Farm.

1961:  Operation Freedom is formed by Peacemakers and leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.  Included on its board are Maurice McCrackin, Clarence Jordan, Ella Baker, Anne and Carl Braden, Ernest Bromley, Wally Nelson, and Myles Horton.  Jordan is later joined on the board by another Koinonian, Conrad Browne.

1963:  Conrad and Ora Browne, who have lived at Koinonia Farm since the 1940s, leave Koinoinia when Con accepts a job at the Highlander Folk School.

Walk for Peace-1964-Albany GA

1964:  Bob Swann and his colleagues at the Committee for Non-Violent Action organize the Quebec-Washington-Guantanamo Walk for Peace.  When this 1000-mile march reaches Albany, Georgia, thirty protesters are arrested and remain in jail for nearly two months. The local attorney representing them is C.B. King.  After their release, the CNVA marchers recuperate at Koinonia Farm before returning to their homes in the north.

1965:  In March, Bob Swann takes five youngsters on a trip through the South, which includes visits at Highlander Center and Koinonia Farm.  Linda and Millard Fuller visit Koinonia Farm in July for the first time.

1968:  In August, Clarence Jordan and Millard Fuller convene a gathering of trusted friends and supporters to explore a new direction for Koinonia Farm.  Bob Swann and Slater King are among those in attendance.  Out of this meeting, Koinonia decides to create Koinonia Partners and the Fund for Humanity, precursors to Habitat for Humanity.  On October 21st, Clarence Jordan sends a mimeographed letter to Friends of Koinonia, setting forth his vision for the Fund for Humanity and declaring “usership not ownership” as a guiding principle for the future tenure of land.  Koinonia Partnership Housing is founded.  Koinonia Farm establishes the Fund for Humanity, a nonprofit vehicle for holding land and money on behalf of enterprises supported by Koinonia Partners.   Title to the lands at Koinonia Farm is conveyed to the Fund for Humanity.

Clarence Jordan

1969:  New Communities is incorporated.  Slater King is elected President.  Death of Slater King in April.  Death of Clarence Jordan in October. The first Partnership house is completed.

1970:  New Communities Inc. purchases 5,735 acres of land in Leesburg GA, 30 miles north of Albany.

1976:  Linda and Millard Fuller found Habitat for Humanity in Americus, GA.

FURTHER READING

  • John Emmeus Davis, “Braided Lives,” (Shelterforce Weekly, March 28, 2013).
  • Dallas Lee, The Cotton Patch Evidence: The Story of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia Farm Experiment (New York: Harper and Row, 1971).
  • Tracy Elaine K’Meyer, Interracialism and Christian Community in the Postwar South: The Story of Koinonia Farm (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997).
  • Robert Swann, “Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm,” Chapter 17 in Peace, Civil Rights, and the Search for Community: An Autobiography  

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