People FOR Peace ~ Reverend E. Julius Davis
The first time I spoke with E. Julius Davis, I was impressed by having spoken with a man in love. Our phone conversation took place early in 2007, a few months before Julius traveled to New Zealand to visit and subsequently marry his old friend and former colleague, Carolyn; so it was not a private love that was expressed then, it was a deep, reverential love for our shared mission and vision as members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR).
When I first met Julius, I was again impressed with being in the presence of love. The meeting took place this past summer when he and Carolyn made a trip to the states to visit friends and family which included a pilgrimage to FOR headquarters in Nyack, NY. At first glance, the glow about the couple might have been due to their perpetual honeymoon, but it was soon apparent that the gleam in Julius’s eyes and the smile on his face was also about being on hallowed ground. At 90 years of age, the pep and vigor in his step as he toured Shadowcliff mansion made clear that he was thrilled to be with executive director of FOR, Mark C. Johnson, and the FOR staff housed in Nyack. He was in awe of nonviolent activists, passionate about nonviolent activism past and present, and enthusiastic about the future of our work; and his spirit, his stories about meeting A.J. Muste and his personal history with FOR, invigorated us all. And, as more was revealed through conversations over lunch, what also became apparent to me was that, like most great abiding love stories, Julius’s devotion to peace and nonviolent justice did not happen in a flash of inspiration, but, rather, developed gradually through accumulated experience.
Julius was born on a farm in rural Iowa on December 7, 1921– exactly twenty years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His early years were spent in Marathon, Iowa where he graduated from High School in 1939. After earning a degree from Buena Vista College, he taught social studies and did summer factory work while taking courses in Sociology and Anthropology at Wayne University in Detroit. In 1947, Julius enrolled at Yale Divinity School where his studies included field work in prisons and jails, and after graduating in 1950 was ordained and began his pastoral ministry. He served the United Methodist Church for thirty-eight years: four years in inner-city Detroit and five years in the suburbs, followed by two years in Babylon, Long Island, and finally twenty-seven years in northern California. During these years, Julius married his first wife and had two children, one of whom was an educable Down syndrome daughter who, he says, “was a great joy of the family and for many others in her fifty-two years.” His wife died in 1992, after which he moved to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range near Yosemite National Park. Although retired, Julius served the church part-time, and enjoyed studying and traveling in his spare time. He married Carolyn in 2007 and moved to New Zealand where he is now writing and exploring Solar Cooking which is becoming very important in many countries, especially in refugee camps.
Julius learned about peace as a way of life in his youth; however, embracing nonviolent resistance/action as a vital part of his Christian affirmation was gradual. In his early years, he learned the importance of peacemaking and loving one’s enemies as a part of his religious upbringing. In college in Iowa, he met a professor who believed in conscientious objection to war. Then in Detroit, the pastor of Central Methodist, Dr. Henry Hitt Crane, urged membership at FOR. Julius joined in 1947. Later, in a church history class at Yale Divinity School, Dr. Roland Bainton emphasized that the early Christians could not become soldiers. Julius had been physically disqualified from joining any branch of the military due to childhood osteomyelitis which left him with “a short leg and a long scar.” During an era in America when men were expected to join the military and lauded for their service, it was reassuring for him to learn that there were different beliefs and possibilities.
After joining FOR, Julius met A.J. Muste at the then headquarters of FOR in New York City and received his first issue of Fellowship magazine. It was then that all he learned from his teachers and experienced throughout his early years coalesced to form an unshakeable faith in the sacredness of life, and he has since tried to put a theology of peace, justice, and nonviolence into practice.
As part of his practice, Julius joined a ten-person FOR and Global Exchange peace delegation to Colombia in November of 2002. He was over 80 years of age at the time of the trip. Here are some of his reflections:
HEROES OF NONVIOLENCE in RURAL COLUMBIA
In November of 2002 I spent 15 days in Colombia with a peace delegation, co-sponsored by the FOR, and dedicated to bringing greater understanding between the USA and Colombia, and which could help bring peace to a nation which had been ravaged by civil war of about 40 years duration.
The closest I had been to South America was 8 days in Puerto Rico. I was met by program coordinator, Jutta Meier-Wiedenbach, at the Bogota airport, and found that I was one of the early arrivals. The next morning I was accompanied on a walk to the plaza with Jorge, where I bought a book: Lush Colombia and its Birds. The large plaza was alive with some one thousand palomas or pigeons.
On the second full day at our hostel we walked across a park and took a gondola to the top of a hill, where we visited a church and a restaurant, and were briefed on Colombia and politics. That evening we learned of the work of peace brigades and how the Government, the Para-military and the Guerillas were struggling for supremacy throughout much of the country.
On day 3, our party of 10 visited the office of the Vice President. Then at the Human Rights office we heard a speaker describe how kidnapping is a practice to achieve diplomatic advantage. This kind of kidnapping of leaders and/or their family members was more prevalent in Colombia than in any other country.
For 3 more days we toured all over the city of Bogota, meeting community leaders and educators. It was encouraging to find that the children were learning tolerance at school, though adults might represent opposing sides in the civil war that smoldered underneath the façade of harmony.
On day 6 we flew to Colombia’s second largest city, Medellin, where we visited a very large undeveloped slum area, inhabited by rural families who had been forced from their land illegally. The Para-military were in control of the area, and as expected, showed up with machine guns where we were meeting with community leaders. After an hour of being under their guns our leaders went o plan B. We were to accept the invitation of a local neighborhood group to meet these desperately poor captive people. We walked close to a half mile, mostly up steep hills. Then we had a simple meal and viewed the art work of the women’s small designs which they had sewn by hand. Here the civil war was real. Young men who refused to be recruited to fight were in constant danger.
After the second day in Medellin we took a bus to the far northwest of Colombia to meet two different communities of the rural poor. We arrived in Turbo by van and then 5 of us went by a small PBI speed boat, and we had to pass inspection by the Para-military at a point on the Atrato River. The other 5 were to visit a rural village where there had recently been violence and killings, though it was said to be safe now.
When the speed boat had gone as far as possible we reached a densely forested area and we were met by two native farmers with a dug out canoe. This was my first ride in a hollowed log, cramped and humbled, yet fascinated. The brilliantly colored birds, the branches over the stream, monkeys, the skill of the boatsmen! It was like a dream, but it was the last leg of our transportation to get to the La Cacarica New Life Community. It was probably only a half hour but it seemed longer. A group of adults and children welcomed us and offered us rubber boots to walk a mile through swamp and sludge. Here for three days we were to live with over a hundred people who had been victimized, and were struggling to live in peace on a small section of land between groups, guerillas on one side and para-military on the other. This area was close to the border of Panama and had been home for many years to poor farmers. They were multi-cultural descendents of African slaves, immigrants and Colombian natives. With most of their land usurped these courageous people had created a democratic cooperative society on what was left of their legal holdings. The promise of roads to get bananas and other produce to a market had not been kept. They were heroes of nonviolence.
The center of their village of huts was a well built Round House. And they had a guest house for us with netting over the mattress beds. The standard meal was soup with some vegetables and sometimes a little meat. They did raise a small amount of grain and had an old grinder with which to make flour. Anything baked was a rare treat. Keeping clean was a problem as they had no reliable source of clean water. It was some distance to a clear stream. Despite primitive conditions the hardships only seemed to generate new strength.
Our last evening was hearing the stories and hopes of the New Life people. Everyone came to the Round House and all ages took part, and also us guests. This was when I congratulated the people on being heroes of nonviolence. What a remarkable community it was and what examples they were to us! Never had I seen family life carried on with such determination and patience. Truly it was a community of resilience. They have been dealt the harshest of blows, even death, for years amidst a devastating civil war, but they have responded with life- NEW LIFE!
Quite a few of the community escorted us when we left. Some of them carried our packs all the way to the little wooden dock. There was the hollow log canoe/boat, ready to carry us back to civilization. But what civilization? We had just left the most civilized community, the most cooperative, the best example of democracy, and with the highest ideals of tolerance and love, that we had seen since our arrival in Colombia. I resolved to take at least a spark of this new life with me and to share it as I have opportunity.
– Ernie Julius Davis, from New Zealand
October 15, 2012
Thank you, Reverend Davis, for carrying that “spark”, the love, wherever you go in the world and for walking in the way of peace.