I was supposed to be in Americus, Georgia, to build houses. But Millard Fuller, the cofounder of Habitat for Humanity, is a moving target.
"Alabama is having a hearing tomorrow in Montgomery on the death penalty," Fuller told me. "The legislature wants to change from the electric chair to lethal injection. There's another amendment to declare a moratorium. I'm going over there to speak against the death penalty. I'm not going as a representative of Habitat for Humanity but as an individual. Do you want to come along?"
Fuller lives in Americus, in Sumter County, where Habitat for Humanity is headquartered, and where he wants to achieve the new goal for Habitat: the elimination of poverty housing. Six hundred homes have been built in this place next door to Jimmy Carter's Plains. Over the last several years, the local Habitat affiliates have used Holy Week for blitz builds (erecting multiple homes in a short time). In 1999 they built 25 houses for Holy Week. But next year, Y2K will bring 100 new homes and the elimination of substandard housing in Sumter County.
"You've got to understand," one Southern friend tells me, "in the South, substandard means black. Whites do not live in substandard housing."
Imagine that Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birmingham march was sponsored by AT&T. Picture Dorothy Day feeding striking workers with staff and food donated by the McDonald's corporation. This is the nature of Millard Fuller's accomplishment. He has taken a radical Christian vision (building homes for poor people), inspired in the midst of a radical Christian community (Clarence Jordan's Koinonia Farm), and sold it to corporate and mainstream America. And they bought it.
So far, Habitat has built 26,000 homes in the U.S. and over 45,000 ...