Mourners Send a Message at Museum Guard's Funeral

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By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 25, 2009

In his eulogy for slain U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum security officer Stephen T. Johns, the Rev. John L. McCoy said Johns was a victim of hatred that must be confronted.

"For too long, too many of us have allowed racism to go unchallenged," McCoy said during Johns's funeral Friday. "There are times when silence is not golden. We must not allow racists to make us racist."

McCoy, senior pastor of the District's Word of God Baptist Church and the Johns family minister, spoke to about 2,000 mourners who went to Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington to pay tribute to Johns, who was fatally wounded June 10. The guard had opened a museum door for white supremacist James W. von Brunn, 88, who then walked in with a rifle and shot him, authorities allege.

Roman R. Kent, a Holocaust survivor and chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, said he was encouraged by the unifying tone of the minister's message.

"As far as I am concerned, love has no boundaries and prejudice has no part in our lives," Kent said. "I think his remarks were both powerful in the content and in the delivery. I shouldn't say they were enjoyed because this was not a morning to enjoy, but I really appreciate and admire the powerful remarks that were made."

Kent said he attended the funeral because it is important that people not forget the story of the Holocaust.

"I have not just a duty but an obligation," he said, "because after my generation is gone, it is only the museum that can carry forward the meaning of brotherhood and the evil of prejudice."

Anthony Polonsky, a professor of holocaust studies at Brandeis University, has been working at the museum this year. He said being at the funeral was important because blacks and Jews have a common heritage of suffering. Johns was African American.

"Racism affects African Americans and Jews," Polonsky said, "and we need to find solutions together."

Bobbie Gentry, who worked with Johns as a Wackenhut Security officer at the museum, said he hopes the fatal shooting will result in upgraded equipment for the guards, mentioning bulletproof vests and better weapons.

Rabbi Tamara Miller, director of spiritual care at George Washington University, was in the hospital's emergency room when Johns arrived by ambulance immediately after the shooting. She said attending the funeral was part of the healing process.

"Reverend McCoy was right," she said. "People of all faiths came to support the family at a time of need. It brings us all together."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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