“Although he died at the hands of hate, he lived in the hands of love.”
Artist and educator Maggie Rose of New Jersey made this heart in honor of Reverend Daniel Simmons.
This tribute written by Susan DeFreitas (published with her permission (find her blog here)) gives you some background on the pastor and expresses our collective grief:
Vietnam veteran, Purple Heart: Allen University, Phi Beta Sigma;
Master’s of Divinity; pastor; father, grandfather.
How many times did you wonder if today was the day
you would die? Some days last longer than others, we know,
and the world must have slowed in its rotation the hour
enemy fire found you, the young black soldier
in that green heat, when your bright blood
sought the earth. Did it return to you,
that green day, when enemy fire, as if traveling through time,
came to reclaim you? Those hours in the ambulance, the hospital,
the operating room must have been some of the longest
in recorded history. They draped the American flag over your casket
as your children and grandchildren lifted you up
in song, and it seemed as if the country itself, some essential part,
would descend into the earth that day. But you did not die young
unlike so many others whose names the nation
has lately learned to mourn. You died at seventy-four,
after three decades of saving souls; your children, grandchildren
are beautiful; and all the days you did not die can never now be
taken from you. Your family, not the enemy, had the final word:
“Although he died at the hands of hate,
he lived in the hands of love.”
The open structure of the heart speaks to vulnerability. The perfect circle within suggests to me that by opening our hearts, there is a chance of experiencing some kind of unity.
Maggie used purple netting to stand for Rev. Simmons’s purple heart and picked some green strips to reference ‘that green day’ of battle mentioned above.She has also included vintage fabrics from when her mother lived in Alabama in the 40’s (the sweet floral at the edge of the heart, is one). Maggie remembers her mother telling her about a black friend from those days — how they would share confidences over the fence but wouldn’t dream of, say, going into town together. Maybe that floral print was being hung on the line while the two friends laughed about something? The air between them fresh, but elsewhere so toxic?
Maggie also used silk tie remnants, apt for a prominent male leader. Reverend Daniel Simmons had been a pastor for most of his adult life.
There are also a few strips that I dyed during the Sea Island Indigo workshop last fall down in Charleston. This cloth was dyed with indigo plants genetically linked to the indigo that the enslaved tended in the 18th century. Indigo production, no small aside here, was back-breaking, smelly, rife with insects, and furthermore, certain aspects of production required extremely critical timing and understanding of Ph levels (ie skill). The stitched kente cloth symbol above means, “he who doesn’t know can know from learning.” I guess we hope that is true of all those who think we live in a post-racial America? Or who think African Americans are to blame for where they find themselves in 2015?
Interesting that it very nearly forms a nine-patch. Maggie also built a cross by combining yellow velvet with yellow embroidery. She was remembering the old song about ‘tying a yellow ribbon around an old oak tree’ and wanted it to stand for remembrance, but also power and the richness of gold. I love that the velvet is so soft to the touch, which makes it resonate with forgiveness.
The cross is surrounded by an open ended form. Originally, Maggie stitched the Emanuel AME’s shield around the cross but found it clunky and unappealing. Once she unpicked the stitches forming the bottom rim of the shield, it suited — the openness of the shape got her thinking about ‘open religion’ and ‘open suffering’. Certainly one of the most powerfully upsetting aspects of the Emanuel AME tragedy rests in how welcome the hateful assailant was made to feel by the AME community.
As with the others, I show you the ‘wrong side’, because the back reveals another version of the same story. Here we find the tag of Peace and the Reverend’s name. But we also find the scraggly threads that show the beginnings and endings of stitch-runs, a skeletal version of the design, and the kente symbol showing more prominently. Like the others, there is the sense of the love and care in the block construction going right through to the back.
Today I leave you with an elegiac song with the chorus “We Can’t Cry No More” by Rhiannon Giddens : here.