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Photo by Laura Inlow, Lewis and Clark Community College
“Let the Church Say Amen: Rocky Fork Church in Voice and Vision” is open in the Hatheway Cultural Center Gallery on the Lewis and Clark Community College campus. The public can view the display free of charge from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day through March 21.
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Photo by S. Paige Allen, Lewis and Clark Community College
Church member Clementine Kennedy poses with Rocky Fork Church Pastor Brian Williams outside the exhibit.
GODFREY – An exhibit entitled “Let the Church Say Amen: Rocky Fork Church in Voice and Vision” is attracting rave reviews.
The exhibit opened Feb. 12 in the Hatheway Cultural Center Gallery on the Lewis and Clark Community College campus. Each day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through March 21 the public can view the display free of charge.
“We have had family members come out and say those were my family members in the exhibit,” said Jim Price, LCCC professor of art, history and culture. “We are learning from this. We are amazed how many have come forward and have added to the story.”
The exhibit, a Lewis and Clark Humanities Project, is presented by the Mannie Jackson Endowment and Center for the Humanities. Funding also is provided from a National Endowment for the Humanities and the Lewis and Clark Community College Foundation.
Price, a professor at LCCC for 12 years, is the exhibit's curator.
“It is about the church,” he said. “It uses the church as a metaphor to tell people’s lives who have been there over time. That is why we constructed the church as a centerpiece.”
The display describes the lives of freedom seekers in the Rocky Fork Church era.
“We didn’t want to tell one narrative story,” Price said. “We wanted to tell a multiplicity of the story and tell the deep Rocky Fork history.”
The Rocky Fork project has been several years in the making, and research by local historian Charlotte Johnson is the core of the exhibit.
Johnson wrote a proposal and submitted it to the U.S. National Park Service. The Rocky Fork area, next to Warren Levis Boy Scout Camp in Godfrey, is a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site.
“People often don’t realize until their old age how important the stories of their parents and grandparents are to defining a time and place,” she said. “It is the stories, the moments of triumph and tragedy, of ordinary living and extraordinary circumstances, that breathe life into our understanding of who and what our community is and has been.”
In 2011, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced Lewis and Clark as one of the first six two-year colleges to receive Challenge Grants.
There is an audio narrative of 26 featured families that helps them come alive, Price said. Pillows with original family names, songbooks and artifacts from the Alton Museum of Art help supplement the audio work.
Rocky Fork has faced considerable obstacles from an 1869 fire, a 1974 church bombing and severe fire damage. Someone detonated a pipe bomb in the basement. The FBI and Madison County Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Department of Justice investigated, and finally the suspect was apprehended.
After the 1974 bombing, Clementine Kennedy stood and cried, saying “God built this church and God wants this church to live.” Alton reporter Ande Yakstis was so moved by her comments he started and finished a campaign with other pastors to rebuild the church.
The church again was damaged by fire in 1988 but rebounded.
Current Rocky Fork Pastor Brian Williams traces his own history back to the church.
“We have been waiting for a long time to do this exhibition,” Price said. “About three years ago a lot of the faculty members came together and wrote a National Endowment for Humanities Grant. The Obama administration created a Challenge Grant for community colleges. It is $250,000 for humanities programs, a two-to-one match.”
Freed slave the Rev. Erasmus Green was the church's first pastor in 1867.
Green stood on a hillside overlooking the church's congregation and said, “This church shall always be a place where people can worship in freedom without persecution.”
Kennedy, who visited the Rocky Fork display at LCCC on the day of dedication, stood in the pulpit and said, “It’s a miracle. God has answered our prayers.”
Because of Kennedy and others affiliated with the church, it lives on for others to worship.