Nannie B. Hairston, in memoriam

This past Friday, July 14th, 2017, Mrs. Nannie B. Hairston passed away. She was 95, and ailing, but nevertheless the news was a shock, because her spirit was so strong that I had somehow supposed mere physical difficulties could not bring her life to a close. Yet it had. Gone, too, was the opportunity to express in fullness my gratitude to her. So now the expression must come after the fact. Again and again, she marvelled at our friendship, crossing boundaries of race and class and privilege, and I at last began to marvel, too. Again and again, she thanked me for the Captain Schaeffer portrait sculpture, which memorialized the man who established the first school for freed slaves in Montgomery County, and founded what became Schaeffer Church–and I, too, began to appreciate its importance for her, and the black community which she so steadfastly advocated on behalf of. Again and again, she expressed amazement that my portrait​ sculpture of her, a black woman without a college education, should be installed in a public building–the Montgomery County Government Center–which had once been a segregated factory, and I began, I hope, to justly understand the reasons for her amazement. Most of all, I began to appreciate the singular commitment she and her husband, John T. Hairston, shared in advancing justice, in addressing the innumerable slights, affronts, and indignities which ringed the lives of African Americans before the Civil Rights era like so many trip wires. How did they persevere? Through the living out of a simple principle, oft repeated: “you can never overcome hate with hate, you can only overcome hate with love.” Alas, words cannot express my gratitude! Only a devoted life, as hers was, will do.