A plain Jane

Published 2:22 am Sunday, July 27, 2008

Back in October 1994, I sat on the porch of a house on Hoover Lake in rural Mississippi and talked to an old woman all afternoon.

The woman, Jane Schutt, really was not anyone you would read about in a history book. Born in 1913, she was educated in the public school system in Washington, D.C., went to George Washington University, where she studied music. She married an engineering graduate, Wallis Schutt. They had five children and moved to Mississippi in 1942. She was a lifelong member of the Episcopal church and was active in Church Women United. That’s where the story gets interesting.

See, it wasn’t the position she held, but her faith that made her an icon, especially for standing up to those who would tell her how to believe, act and think.

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Miss Jane believed every person, no matter what they brought to the table in terms of color, wealth or belief, became family at God’s table. It was that belief that made her the target of death threats in the 1960s.

Miss Jane said it best in that interview: Over and over there were two prayers in the Episcopal church, we called these prayers collects. And there was one that starts out, ‘Almighty God, who has made of one blood, all nations to dwell upon the face of the earth.’ And those words, I had said them over and over and over. And then there’s another one, and there was a phrase in it that said, ‘Make no peace with oppression.’ So when these things began to come up I began to, as I became involved in this community and the church and became involved in the matter of desegregation and what was right, those phrases were part of me. And I’d simply thought, what did I mean? What have I been meaning? I remember discussing with my children one morning in the kitchen or telling them that I was just busy thinking about, what does it mean when God created all men of one blood? Because this was a time when people were saying that wasn’t true. I knew it was true. And so this led me to go ahead with and accept and be glad and thankful, even though it was not easy and certainly not easy for my children.”

In this, the year of the 40th anniversary of the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I think of her and her courage not to whine or threaten when challenged for her beliefs.

When the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in Miss Jane’s yard, she stored it in the back of her house. And, when Christmas came, she brought it out, stuck it back in her yard and put Christmas lights on it.

Leesha Faulkner is executive editor of The Selma-Times Journal. She may be reached at 410-1730 or by e-mail at leesha.faulkner@selmatimesjournal.com.