Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published by Jeff Hood at Patheos and is published here with permission.
*This is my account of the final conversation I had with Arthur Brown, Jr. (as his spiritual advisor) immediately before he was executed by the State of Texas on March 9, 2023.
Danger always seems to lurk in spaces where we don’t know what’s next. I guess that’s the nature of danger…the unknown.
Door after door opened and shut. I didn’t know where I was going. I just knew that I had to walk by faith and not by sight. When the last one opened, I didn’t even know it was the last one. I just knew I had to walk through it.
A few steps in front of me, Arthur Brown, Jr. sat in a small cage. Immediately, Arthur stood up and placed his hands against the bars. I quickly reciprocated. To be honest, I didn’t come in with much to say. How do you plan for a conversation that? This brother had just an hour to live. I felt a huge burden to offer something meaningful…something worth the usage of such precious time. So, I uttered one last prayer. Then, I opened my mouth.
Innocence is a loaded word. Arthur used it often. How can someone be innocent and be in such a circumstance? Whether we admit it or not, that’s how most of us initially respond to such claims. I don’t think we can help it. Skepticism is a big part of who we are. From the moment I met Arthur, I felt like there was something different about him. I told him, “When the Spirit in me met the Spirit in you, I knew you.” Throughout time and space, God has always had a way of joining us together. We started with the Spirit…and in that difficult hour we were going to finish with the Spirit.
In that dark dungeon, I told Arthur that I felt like the Spirit was especially strong with him tonight. “Dr. Hood, I’m just ready to go home. Can you tell me about home?” I didn’t hesitate. The mood lifted a bit. It was like we were waiting on a bus to pick him up. I guess we were both waiting on the route that would take him home.
Over the years, Arthur had known love. When I asked him what love felt like, he pointed his finger in every direction and sarcastically replied, “The opposite of this.” I agreed. We were in a place where people killed each other. I mean the door to the execution chamber was right behind us. Until it was time, I invited him to live into the opposite of all of this. Perhaps, we could make heaven appear on earth. In that moment, he began to relax.
“I think people should be jealous of you right now.” Arthur couldn’t believe that I’d said such a thing. Sensing his surprise, I explained, “You are about to die for something meaningful and real…your principles…your truth. Most outside of these walls will waste away with no clear purpose whatsoever.” I could feel his Spirit growing stronger. “Home is about the fulfillment of purpose. Your purpose is to speak your truth.”
“I feel like Dr. King must have felt in Memphis the night before his assassination.” I found the connection to be incredibly powerful. King died knowing that his death would point to the promised land of freedom. I too knew that Arthur’s death would point in the same direction. “Keep pointing people home.” I could feel the strength rising in his voice.
“What do you think I should say in there?” I knew that Arthur was talking about his final statement. I didn’t hesitate. “Say the words that God has placed on your heart.” “I got words of liberation on my heart right now Dr. Hood.” “Say that then.” “But how?” “Just tell your truth. God is in that truth.” “That is the way home.” “I think I know the way.” “You are the way my friend.” “Listen to the God who is in you.”
Leaning forward, I prayed, “God, give Arthur Your strength in this moment of trial…put Your words in his mouth…and seal his soul in You…the Home of all Homes.”
In that moment, I looked into Arthur’s eyes and told him I loved him. After making me promise that I’d keep up the fight of abolition, he replied, “I’ll see you at Home.”