June 8, 2012

From our overstocked archives: Rev. Imagene Stewart


 The Rev Imagene Stewart, one time homeless woman turned preacher, has passed away in Washington, DC. She was also part of the history of the Progressive Review in one of its earlier incarnations as the neighborhood newspaper, the Capitol East Gazette, in the 1960s. At the time her parish was called the Revolutionary Church of What's Happening Now and she was among the fascinating characters we covered in a neighborhood both troubled and vibrant that in a few years would be badly damaged in the riots of 1968.

Sam Smith, Multitudes - The meat and potatoes of our coverage were the endless meetings taking place in the community, not a few of them spurred by questions as to what to do and who should do it with the money coming from the war on poverty. Everyone knew Robert's Rules of Order and its locally sanctioned addenda: "Mr. Chairman, I have an unreadiness." Sometimes meetings broke up in pandemonium. One was literally turned around after the chair declared it illegal. The vice chair, a minister and cab driver who wore a clerical collar around his neck and a coin holder on his belt, stood up in the back of the room and announced that the meeting would go on and requested everyone to turn their chairs around. Most did, leaving the chairman speechless in what was now the rear.

On another occasion this same preacher-cabbie urged the audience to "Calm the tempest, bridle tongues, and govern our thoughts." It didn't work. The minutes of the group bring back the flavor, if not the purpose, of the dispute:
The meeting was held on the above date with Mr. Swaim presiding. As a background he reviewed the Annual Assembly of Delegates which was not held because there was no quorum, and questions concerning the By-Laws, missing minutes and the fact that the Executive Committee minutes were not available . . .

Mrs. Mayo felt that all people should be allowed to speak. Mr. Geathers stated that it was not legal for non-members to participate. Mrs. Mayo then asked, "Who are the members?" Mr. Geathers stated that we were going to establish definitely the answer to this question . . .
The meetings may have seemed chaotic but they were actually part of a community coming alive, of power being transferred to better places, and of the anarchistic results of discovering hope. And you met some wonderful people covering the story, people like the Reverend Imagene Stewart of the Revolutionary Church of What's Happening Now. 

And public housing activist Lucille Goodwin. Ms. Goodwin, it seemed, spent all day on the phone. A long-time resident of Langston Terrace public housing in Near Northeast, constantly cropping up on anti-poverty boards and committees, ever-present at the big fights, chairwoman of the citizen's advisory arm of the Neighborhood Legal Services program, she had plenty to talk about. A memo had come in the mail that she wanted to read, someone was putting something over on someone else, or perhaps she just had to report that at some local meeting "those folks messed themselves up good last night." She carried out her civic functions with an energy more typical of one half her age, and she did so despite an ill and old husband who had to be helped in and out of rooms and who would sit quietly in a corner fiddling with a little plastic soldier while his wife took on the accumulated offenses of the system. It was her intensity and concern more than her language that carried her through, and she would toss around transliterated multisyllabic words like confetti. Everyone knew just what Lucille Goodwin meant even if they hadn't understood what she said. One day, though, she ended her call with a message that hung around. "You know how you got to treat them people downtown?" she asked, and then without waiting offered the solution: "You gotta technique 'em."

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