The Rev. Todd Rhodes has always been interested in history and the way lives overlap to form the fabric of the past. And, during national Black History Month the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Brunswick, enjoys sharing the depth of his culture with the entire community.
Each year his congregation offers a comprehensive display to showcase the multitude of African American figures who have made a lasting impact on the world.
“We want to spotlight the African American community, last year we focused on national figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglas and those pillars of the African American community,” he said. “Last year, we also had things showcasing the great inventors who invented the gas mask and the traffic light, which were invented by people of color.”
The message that Rhodes hoped parishioners and guests took away from last year’s exhibit was one of unity. Those great inventors, he notes, did not create life saving devices for members of their own race. They developed them for all mankind.
“These were invented, with God’s help, not just for African Americans but for society and the world,” he said.
It’s a critical point that Rhodes hopes the community will embrace this February as well. He feels that exploring African American culture can promote unity between races — not by focusing on differences, but by highlighting similarities.
“It’s our hope and prayer that people will see that it really does take everyone to make the world work. Color should not be something that divides or separates us ... we’re all in the same world together,” he said.
That’s also true of the Golden Isles community. The area, which is filled with significant African American history, can be viewed as a time capsule of sorts. From the tabby slave cabins at Gascoigne Bluff on St. Simons Island to the old Risley school used during segregation, the past is very much in the present.
For Rhodes, it’s an opportunity to appreciate the journey of those who came before him. This year, Shiloh’s exhibit will highlight those local heroes — both past and present — who have shaped the local black community.
“This year it will be a local spotlight, showing Brunswick, St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island — all of Glynn County — because it is so enriched with flavor and history. There have been some great African Americans produced right here. We have so much to be proud of ... it’s a vibrant history,” he said.
Two of the individuals Shiloh will highlight bring the notion of past and present full circle. Neptune Small was a slave serving the King family of Retreat Plantation on St. Simons Island during the Civil War. Small was the manservant of Henry King who fought for the Confederacy. When King was mortally wounded, Small scoured the field of the dead and dying until he found King. He brought his body all the way back from the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia to St. Simons Island.
“That’s something to really think about ... that he would think enough of those who enslaved him to bring the remains of their fallen son back. It’s that type of love, even for those who have enslaved you, that is important — to have enough love for your fellow man to do something like that,” Rhodes said. “Now we can go out and see Neptune Park on St. Simons Island or his grave on Sea Island and it’s a very humbling experience.”
Today, a local African American sculptor and teacher, Kevin Pullen, has become a giant in the area’s art community. He created a sculpture that depicts Small carrying King. The piece is on display at the Golden Isles Welcome Center on St. Simons Island, adjacent from the park that bears Small’s name. Pullen will also be a part of the Shiloh Baptist exhibit.
Rhodes notes that this is simply the tip of the iceberg.
“There were 14 plantations here. Of course, you have the tabby slave cabins and then the Wanderer on Jekyll Island, the last known slave ship that deposited it’s cargo in the United States. That wasn’t gold or gems or natural resources, that ‘cargo’ was a human cargo,” he said.
“You just look at these things and you know they didn’t think of themselves like that ... ‘slave mama’ or ‘slave daddy’ ... it was just ‘mama’ and ‘daddy.’ They were just people and we are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors who have come before us. We come from good stock and a strong line of people who made it through terrible, turbulent times.”
The stories and lives Rhodes hopes to share through the exhibit is meant to provide a means of connection — between time periods, as well as racial lines. In addition to the standing display, Shiloh Baptist will also welcome a number of guest pastors throughout the month. A different preacher will take to the pulpit at 11 a.m. each Sunday.
This week, the Rev. Chris Winford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Brunswick, will preach, while Rhodes visits his congregation Feb. 10 in a so-called “pastor swap.”
Winford, says he and Rhodes are kindred spirits who both feel that sharing the message of Christ is the best way to promote unity.
“The swapping of pulpits simply came from two men, of different color, who have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, called into the ministry and who respect each other. Pastor Todd and I are on the same team, and we want to share that with our congregations and with Brunswick and the Golden Isles. It’s going to be fun,” Winford said.
“We began talking about the idea of preaching in each other’s church back in October 2018 when our two churches joined together to host the Downtown Trunk or Treat. Honestly, we didn’t really discuss the fact that February was Black History Month or that, in Southern Baptist life, Sunday, Feb. 10, is Racial Reconciliation Sunday.”
Rhodes agrees and hopes the entire month will provide a means for the community to better connect and heal. That is especially true in today’s world where deep racial divides and prejudices remain.
“If there is a black person and a white person together in a boat and the boat has a hole in it, it doesn’t matter who plugs the hole. The boat will sink and both people will drown if someone doesn’t. So like that scenario, we’re all in this together,” Rhodes said.
“It’s our hope and prayer that that we don’t allow our differences to makes us hateful, spiteful and mean spirited. We can’t allow the pigment of our skin or the hue of our skin to push us below where we should be as a race ... and I’m talking about the human race,” Rhodes said.