When he moved back home here 12 years ago, the Rev. Moses Berry wanted to settle down to small-town life with his wife and two children. He did not intend to become a one-man racial reconciliation committee.
But some residents of this nearly all-white, rural town of 1,400 people 15 miles west of Springfield say that he has done just that.
By founding a black history museum here, cleaning up his family’s cemetery and telling his family’s sometimes controversial story, beginning with its roots in slavery, Father Moses, as everyone calls him — an African-American, Orthodox Christian priest in a flowing black cassock — has tried to remind people of a part of the region’s often-forgotten past, and to open up hearts and minds along the way.
“He brings peace to people. I’ve seen it,” said Gail Emrie, 56, a local history buff who helped get the Berry family’s 135-year-old cemetery — one of the region’s few black cemeteries not located on a plantation — listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. “It is reconciliation, and it is his mission, reconciliation of our history between the races.”
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