Learning the Language of Peace: The Spiritual Vision of the Civil Rights Movement and Its Promise for the Present Age (video)

Posted on April 22, 2022 by PLT Staff


Ms. Victoria Gray Adams (1926 –2006)

Victoria Gray Adams was a Black middle-class businesswoman who took her first step into the movement life during a church service in her hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She would become a highly effective field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and help to create the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. After the movement years, Ms. Adams settled in Petersburg, Virginia, with her husband and family. She served as the Wesleyan chaplain at Virginia State University.

In her visits between 2000 and 2006 with students at the UVA Project on Lived Theology, Ms. Adams spoke of the Civil Rights Movement as “a journey toward the establishment of the kingdom of God,” as the “enfleshened church.” “We were seed people,” she said. “No matter how bleak the terrain looked out there, we were planted for a rich harvest. I don’t care whether you call yourself a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. We didn’t have much of anything really except the church, and as we put our faith in these, they were burned down. But the church was there for us; the church as the representation of the spirit of love—of God. We were a seed people and a spirit-people; I don’t care whether you call yourself a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. What happened back there in the 1960s with ordinary people could not have happened without an understanding of ourselves as spirit-people.”

In her final visit with my undergraduate class, “The Kingdom of God in America,” she spoke of the “unfinished business” of the movement. We were meeting in my home that afternoon. It was a cold winter day, and we were around the fireplace in our living room. Mrs. Adams had a gift for invoking the spirit of the movement in a way that was palpable, and soon she had us singing freedom songs and spirituals–as she does in this video in a large lecture hall. A student had asked Ms. Adams her thoughts on the mission of the Civil Rights Movement today. Without hesitation she replied, “The movement’s unfinished business is learning to speak the language of peace.”

Lecture given by Victoria Gray Adams at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA (October 13, 2005). Civil rights legend Adams begins her talk with the song “I’m Going to Do What the Spirit Says Do,” then shares her journey of becoming a civil rights activist and then what she calls a “spiritual, social activist.” She recounts how as a military wife and mother, her work with a small-business group piqued her interest in community organizing. Adams then started a business in her hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, that found employment for domestic and menial workers. From there, she started working with voter registration activists and SNCC, which led her to full-time activism. To find a listing of all our Occasional Lectures, click here.

Excerpt: “I saw these young people coming into the community, living among us, eating what we ate, fitting themselves into the culture of the community. So, this is the church. This IS the church. If the Kingdom of God is coming, this is the way it’s coming. It’s coming through people beginning to do what they have been singing about, praying about, preaching about.”

To learn more about Ms. Adams, read this 2008 tribute, written by PLT alum Ashley Diaz Mejias shortly after Ms. Adams’ passing.

  • Video Information
  • Date Recorded:October 13, 2005
  • Location Recorded:Charlottesville, VA
This video is published by the Project on Lived Theology (PLT). For any questions related to its use, please contact PLT (https://www.livedtheology.org//contact/). Copy available for use subject to Creative Commons License CC-BY-NC-ND (Attribution required, Non-Commercial use, No Derivatives, 3.0, Unported).