Clarence Jordan (1912-1969)
Clarence Jordan, Southern Baptist minister, cofounded Koinonia Farm in Sumter County and translated many New Testament books into the "
Cotton Patch versions, colloquial interpretations set in the American South. Jordan committed his ministry to racial reconciliation and economic justice. A gifted preacher and teacher, he was a popular and frequent speaker at progressive religious gatherings across the United States from the 1940s through the 1960s. "
Clarence Leonard Jordan, the seventh of ten children who survived infancy, was born to Maude Josey and James Weaver Jordan on July 29, 1912, in Talbotton. One of his brothers, Robert H. Jordan, served as a justice on the Supreme Court of Georgia and as chief justice from 1980 to 1982.
In 1933 Jordan earned a B.S. degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia, where he was editor of the Georgia Agriculturist and state president of the Baptist Student Union. Responding to a call by
Jordan later cited childhood events as his first experiences of the economic disparity and racial animosity between black people and white people. As a college student, he attended national YMCA conferences that deepened his sense that the Christian Gospel and prevailing cultural traditions regarding race were incompatible. His theological and biblical study as a seminarian convinced him that God regarded all people as equals and intended for humankind to do the same.
Jordan decided to incorporate his agricultural training into his ministry and established Koinonia Farm as a Christian community in which members pooled their resources into a common treasury and treated all persons as equals, regardless of race or class. Koinonia taught local farmers, black and white, World War II (1941-45). Opposition to the war was not tolerated by the majority of U.S. citizens, who supported the "good war" as a safeguard to democracy, and conscientious objectors, like those at Koinonia Farm, were often ostracized or threatened. The farm's racially integrated working and living environment also invited such severe violence, prosecution, and economic boycott during the Jim Crow era of the 1950s that the community became nearly dormant. In 1968 Koinonia Farm reincorporated as Koinonia Partners and launched an ambitious but pragmatic low-cost, interest-free house-building program that eventually evolved into Habitat for Humanity.
Jordan led Koinonia Atlanta, and Russell Treyz, a director and playwright from New York, transformed the Cotton Patch version of Matthew into The Cotton Patch Gospel, an off-Broadway musical with a score by Harry Chapin.
Jordan died of a heart attack on October 29, 1969, while working at Koinonia on a Cotton Patch translation. His papers are housed at the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia. Florence Jordan died of cancer at Koinonia on June 17, 1987, and was buried with her husband at Koinonia.
Media Gallery: Clarence Jordan (1912-1969)