Uncovering History at a Covered Up Statue in Charlottesville

On August 12, 2017, Charlottesville, VA became the unlikely epitome of racially motivated violence in America. A statue of Robert E. Lee served as the backdrop for the dramatic scene that engulfed the campus of the University of Virginia and the downtown Main Street area, where Heather Heyer was struck by a car driven by hate and killed. The nation was re-introduced to a small group of Americans willing to brandish burning torches in the Virginia night, unmistakably harkening back to a time of hooded mobs terrorizing black and minority residents.

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Charlottesville, VA

Sadly, most Americans are content to idly accept less overt displays of racism in the systems of society. August 12th, however, was impossible to ignore.

What continues to be made abundantly clear is that Charlottesville is not an anomaly in the nation. It’s merely the most recent crack in the dam of pent up hostility. A few years ago, I felt the Lord had spoken to me that the enemy had planted landmines of racial strife all across the country, and they were just waiting to be set off. To be clear, that “enemy,” of course, is not any human being. It is a spiritual enemy and demonic through and through. It finds a body in our unjust systems, attitudes, and apathy, and it rages against the image of God in others who look a little different than ourselves.

Will Ford and I had the privilege of being asked to participate in a Charlottesville event on December 2, organized in response to the violence and tragedy. We joined with Christian city leaders and national leaders to address the issue with prayer and action. It was an honor to link arms with women and men unwilling to let hate have the last word in these matters. At a press conference in front of the Lee statue, which is now covered with a black tarp, Will and I were introduced as “very interesting gentlemen” and “who represent the heart of the gathering.” Our contribution was to tell our incredible story of Providence and to help lead prayer that would mark hearts and motivate action. What was particularly rewarding for us was the fact that Virginia serves as the centerpiece of our story.

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Virginia is the birthplace of America. It is rich with history and overflowing with stories. Today’s culture, however, is wrestling with how to tell those stories. Some feel threatened by revisionist history, while others see an intentional perpetuation of the mindsets of a bygone era—namely that of slavery. As Will and I have prayed over these matters, an important aspect has emerged that we would like to address. It deals with the statues and memorials that are dominating discussions in cities all across America.

Memorials serve one grand purpose: to remind us of people and events in the past that helped get us to where we are now. In their ideal expression, we learn from those pivotal moments how to help improve the future by not repeating the mistakes of the past. In their less-than-ideal form, they can elevate ideas that quietly suggest, "Let’s get back to the way things were.” It’s in those moments when minority communities, in particular, are thinking, “No thanks.”

Take the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville as an example. The city remains torn over whether or not to remove it. While participating in the gathering there, I asked several leaders what they thought about it. To my surprise, they were equally divided on the topic. “Oh, it definitely needs to stay. Lee was an important figure in Virginia history,” one pastor responded. “That statue is a constant reminder of slavery and racism,” another clergyman declared. Is there a right or wrong answer to this dilemma? It’s important to know some forgotten history to understand the backdrop of this controversy in America right now.

The first film to ever premiere in the United States White House was called Birth of a Nation. In 1915, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson allowed the screening of the movie as a favor to his friend, the author of the book on which the film was based. That book was titled The Clansman. The film, which was revolutionary for its time and a commercial success, dramatized the founding of the Ku Klux Klan, depicting them as heroic figures set against uncivilized and sexually aggressive black men in the South.

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Although the KKK had been dismantled during the later years of reconstruction after the Civil War, the film effectively galvanized a resurgence of the Klan and was used as a recruitment tool. That year the KKK was reborn on top of Stone Mountain connected to the film’s release in Atlanta. It is not a mere coincidence then that many statues memorializing Confederate leaders began to emerge throughout the south. The Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville was commissioned shortly afterward in 1917.

It could be said that the racist film Birth of a Nation helped fuel the spirit of the age. What must be acknowledged is that many of the statues and memorials that emerged at that time were the product of a racist agenda. Mind you, this was all happening during the Jim Crow era, when racial segregation ruled the South. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, who helped organize the unveiling of the statue, released a statement in the wake of August 12th saying their organization, “totally denounces any individual or group that promotes racial divisiveness or white supremacy.” Then, a few days after Will and I helped lead prayer in Charlottesville, an Imperial Wizard with the KKK admitted in a CNN interview that many white supremacists had come on August 12th to incite a race war.

So what can be said? After a closer look at the commission of the Charlottesville Lee statue, did it have a racist origin or not? The reality is whether or not the statue stays or goes, people on either side will have hearts that need healing, which is why we must continue to cover this matter in prayer.

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Will Ford and I met January 17, 2005, which was Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration day. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King gave his famous I Have a Dream speech, I joined with others from around the country for a prayer meeting. Little did I know, but Will had also been led to attend that same prayer meeting. What has been significant to both of us through the years is that we met in a prayer meeting, and I think that fact speaks of what God wants to do in America right now.

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I genuinely believe we are going to find each other in the prayer meetings. If we will lay down our agendas and seek each other out to advance God’s kingdom, there is no limit to what God can accomplish in us and through us. It’s a wise statement, “You can do more than pray, but you can’t do anything until you have prayed.” It’s in these kinds of prayer meetings that God-ideas and action come together with brothers and sisters moving in unity. God promises to pour out the anointing oil in those settings, so I believe the prayer meeting is the great incubator for godly activism and societal change.

Only a united church can heal a divided nation.

The Prayers of My Forefathers (Former Slaves) Echo Today

The American Civil War finally came to an end on April 9, 1865. Reflecting on this moves my heart in a profound way, partly because of the sacrifice of prayer in my family – who were formerly slaves.

I believe their prayers led personally to my freedom, and nationally delivered a nation from God’s judgment. It’s a testimony of great spiritual inheritance, a story so large it’s difficult to share.

Prayer Bowls Over America

It begins with a 200 year-old black kettle pot, used by my Christian slave forbearers in Lake Providence, Louisiana. While used for cooking and washing clothes during the day, this kettle was secretly used for prayer. Forbidden to pray by their slave master, my ancestors were beaten unmercifully if found doing so.

However, in spite of their master’s cruelty, and because of their love for Jesus, they prayed anyway. At night, sneaking into a barn, they carried this cast iron cooking pot into their secret prayer meeting. As others looked out, those inside prayed.

Turning this pot upside-down on the barn floor, they propped it up with rocks – suspending the pot a few inches above the ground. Then, while lying prostrate or kneeling on the ground, they prayed in a whisper underneath the kettle to muffle their voices. The story passed down with the kettle is that they were risking their lives to pray for ensuing generations. One day, freedom did come.

An unknown teenage girl decided to keep this pot, and pass it down along with the story of how others prayed for our freedom. She passed the story and the kettle down to Harriet Lockett; who then passed it on to Nora Lockett, who then passed it on to William Ford Sr., then to William Ford Jr. – who then gave it to me, William Ford III.

Will Ford and Matt Lockett with the family prayer kettle (Photo: Courtesy of Will Ford)

Will Ford and Matt Lockett with the family prayer kettle (Photo: Courtesy of Will Ford)

Whispered Prayers on Earth, Loud Cries In Heaven

It is important to understand the dynamics of what happened in the spirit realm. Revelation 5:8 speaks of ”bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” before the throne of God. Zechariah 14:20 says, ”And the cooking pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar.” 

This “prayer bowl” caught muffled prayers on earth, just as bowls in heaven caught their prayers as incense. Though my forefathers only used this kettle as an acoustic means to keep them from being heard, symbolically – probably without their knowing it – this pot became their bowl of intercession.

Another interesting dynamic to note: in Revelation 8 when these bowls are released, one of the manifestations upon earth is voices.

White Christian abolitionists/revivalists like Francis Asbury and Charles Finney became voices for the voiceless. Their sermons in public became answers to whispered, private prayers. Along with black revivalists and abolitionists, like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, they awakened the conscience of America to the value of human life, equality, and justice. 

Revelation 8 also says that at some future point, God adds His incense and fire to these prayers, which manifest His judgment or justice on earth. And that is just what He did. 

Francis Asbury Memorial in Washington, DC (Photo: Mike Maguire / Flickr)

Francis Asbury Memorial in Washington, DC (Photo: Mike Maguire / Flickr)

The Supreme Court of Heaven Rules Courts on Earth

In 1857, many felt a Supreme Court decision sealed the fate of enslaved African Americans. In Dred Scott v. Sandford, Supreme Court justices ruled by a 7-2 decision that slaves were the property of their masters – with no human rights and no representation in court. However, because of prayer and acts of obedience, hearts changed and eventually this demonic decree was broken over America.

Revival was released and justice came, setting slaves free in America; God’s heart was comforted through prayer and action. Now, our generation is being called into prayer and action today to be voices for the voiceless, releasing revival and justice in our day.  

During the Civil Rights Movement, just as it was during slavery, there was a remnant of White and Black that labored together. Of this, Dr. King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “…for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.”

”And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom,” Dr. King continues. “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.” 

In the same way God raised up a unified remnant of Black and White during slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, He is doing the same today – connecting the past with the future, in more ways than one. 

A Most Amazing Divine Connection

As God would have it, as my Lockett forefathers prayed for years for the ending of slavery in Lake Providence, Louisiana, God ended slavery through the Civil War – on April 6, 1865, the last shot was fired on a property called Lockett’s Farm on Sailor’s Creek.

You may be aware that my friend Matt Lockett, Director of Bound4LIFE and JHOP DC, is a direct descendant of this family of Locketts. In other words, the Civil War ended in Matt’s forefathers’ front yard! History records this farm was the site of the last battle before Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered three days later – on April 9, at Appomattox Court House. 

Photo: Matt Lockett

Photo: Matt Lockett

Just think: Secret prayers for freedom, under a kettle pot in Louisiana from my ancestors named Lockett, were in part answered at the farmhouse of slave owners in Matt’s family named Lockett, where the Civil War ended! While God was answering prayers for freedom on my family side of Locketts, he was also answering the prayers on Matt’s side of Locketts as well.  

Matt noted recently that an earlier Lockett in his family line was one of Francis Asbury’s circuit riding preachers – an abolitionist who stood for freedom. Matt also has Lockett descendants who taught former slaves to read and write during the Reconstruction period. In light of what his ministry and impact is today, it is no coincidence that all this is part of Matt’s family heritage.

Nor do I think it is a coincidence that for 10 years, I’ve been in a friendship with a descendant of those same Locketts – contending together for revival as a new breed of abolitionist today. By His Providence God connected two people from Lockett families – from what we’ve discovered, most likely the same Lockett family line – uniting us to war against injustice in our day, and to cry out for awakening in our generation.

You read that correctly. After over a year of research, we’re 90 percent certain that Matt’s family of Locketts in Virginia once owned my Locketts in Louisiana – who originally came from Virginia. (The details of how we met, and the uncanny way our stories come together, can be heard in our sessions from Hilltop Conference.)

Photo: JHOP DC

Photo: JHOP DC

Though we’ve been friends and in ministry together nationally – I was one of the first Bound4LIFE board members 10 years ago – none of this was revealed to us until Matt’s discovery of Lockett’s Farm two years ago. In the words of Dr. King: we are inextricably bound for life, realizing that our destinies are tied together.

Many common bonds connect us. When God gets this detailed in revelation, you can’t help but notice His signs and begin to wonder… and ponder. 

One question we’ve been pondering is: Why was this hidden from us until now? Perhaps it is because God knew racial tension and unrest would be where it is now in our nation. Ferguson, Missouri and other national hotspots are only manifestations of wounds that God wants to heal – and will heal – through a unified godly remnant.

Another question is “What is God saying to us all in this?” I believe He is saying He is serious about us connecting with the past: to empower us with an awakening today, that will shape our nation’s future. He also wants to go deeper with the issue of the shedding of innocent blood, which is the injustice that connected Matt and I together 10 years ago. 

God’s Heart over Injustice

In 2001, I had an encounter while in prayer where I agonizingly wept for more than two hours in travail for our nation. While praying and seeking to find out what was happening to me, I inwardly heard the Lord say He was sharing with me His heart for America.

With intensity I’d never known before, I wept over the pain and racial division in our nation. I then inwardly heard the Lord speak to me: “If I heard the whispered prayers of slaves underneath cooking pots, how much more do I hear the silent screams of babies being aborted in America.”

Up to that point, I didn’t understand the racist underpinnings of eugenics that influenced slavery and abortion. After years of study and research, I’ve learned these issues are connected more than we know.

Photo: Courtesy of Will Ford

Photo: Courtesy of Will Ford

Another unjust decree is upon the nation – the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. In similar form as Dred Scott, the Court said that unborn babies are the property of their mothers – with no human rights, and no representation in court. Just as Dred Scott, this decision was passed 7 to 2. The similarities are eerie. 

In 1857, when people were outraged about the decision, Chief Justice Taney basically said that if people didn’t like slavery, they didn’t have to participate in it; they had no right to force morality on anyone else.

In 1973, when people were outraged over Roe v. Wade, Justice Blackmun basically said Americans didn’t have to participate in abortion; we have no right to impose morality on someone else. 

Same arguments, different day. Both are unjust and we have not learned our lessons from history.  

A United Church: The Answer

Will ending abortion in America fix the ills in the black community (crime, murder, drug addiction, economic disparity, etc.)? Not entirely, but can we truly solve any problem in our community while abortion still exists as it is? The answers, of course, lie in the church of Jesus Christ. The church was the answer during slavery and the civil rights movement.

And a new remnant of Christians of all races, working together on this issue, must pray and be voices for the voiceless in our day: the unborn. In 2005, Matt heard me speak for the first time about a new revival and justice movement which included the unborn, and we’ve been praying for a revival that will end abortion ever since.  

Matt and I represent two men with Lockett names; and, like a “locket,” we hold memories. It’s interesting how lockets hold memories, yet nothing is revealed until its heart-shaped frame is opened up to reveal the precious pictures and memories inside. Most of the time, they open easily; but the older they get, it takes a little effort to pry them open.

Photo: Ashley Rose / Flickr

Photo: Ashley Rose / Flickr

In similar fashion, I believe Matt’s silent prayers in front of the Supreme Court, for 10 years, remind God of silent kettle prayers, and pry open God’s heart. As a result, God began sharing with us His “Lockett” history of memories: memories of not only kettle prayer warriors, but also revivalist, abolitionist and educators who moved His heart.

Individuals in our families partnered with God in making history, yet the history they were making would not be complete without the work of future generations. Hebrews 11:39-40 speaks of these heroes of faith: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.”

In other words, Matt and I firmly believe that God isn’t finished with America. We all have unfinished business. God wants to awaken and heal our nation deeper than we can even imagine. 

A Call to Prayer and Action Today

The angels of Revelation 8 are standing at attention, waiting for us to add our prayers as incense to the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. No one thought slavery would end in America, but they forget about the praying remnant of “cooking pot” intercessors and white abolitionists, who reminded God of how He delivered Israel from Egypt.

The prayers of this godly remnant broke the power of Dred Scott, and slavery ended in America. The same God who broke the power of that unjust decree can break the power of Roe v. Wade too, and heal other wounds in our nation.

Truly, the commitment of our fathers has become the calling of our time. This generation has been called for such a time as this, to shift the courts in America.  

On April 9, 150 years from now, should the Lord tarry, may the Supreme Court be an “Appomattox Court House” the next generation can point to. Perhaps they will tell the story: “This is the place where the shedding of innocent blood ended, because there was a Justice House of Prayer and others that stood in the gap. As a result of their prayers, God sent another historic revival through the land.”

“You see, there was a prayer meeting in front of this courthouse, and one day, this became the place where America surrendered to God…”