EDIT (June 30, 10:28 p.m.): A seventh predominantly black church burns tonight, media reports. Mount Zion AME Church, located in Greeleyville, South Carolina, burned to the ground 20 years ago by two men who claimed to be with the KKK.
I know I'm not the only one who thought back to the 1963 church bombing that killed four little black girls in Birmingham, Alabama, after hearing about the Charleston massacre. I still get chills when I think about the scene portraying this in Ava DuVernay's 2014 movie Selma. Such innocence and purity destroyed so violently.
If the attack that killed nine people at Emanuel AME Church earlier this month wasn't terrifying enough, since then, at least five predominantly black churches in the South have been set on or caught fire. Three are being investigated as arson. One of those was Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte -- less than 10 minutes away from where I used to buy my groceries when I lived there. Another, Glover Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina, is about a 30 minute drive from my house now.
Federal officials don't believe the fires were hate crimes or even connected; they chalk up the Charlotte blaze and another set at College Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, to vandalism. Officials ruled on Monday the cause at Glover Grove was undetermined.
But there's still plenty reason to be concerned. People -- people you might pass in the gas station or sit near in the movies -- are destroying places where folks can come together for a meeting of spirits and minds. These types of gathering places are absolutely essential nowadays, as we live in a time when the country, all people, need to come together to build something better. (Nevermind the whole, "the church is God's holy sanctuary" thing -- terrorist Dylann Roof destroyed that notion.)
The arson case in Charlotte is particularly disturbing.
The Briar Creek building that was torched last Wednesday was used as an education building for the congregation's youth. Because of the damage, the church's summerlong day camp, called Camp “Son” Shine, had to be moved to another site.
"Nearly all of the 28 children signed up attended Monday morning, but some are having trouble finding a way to get to the new location because it’s no longer within walking distance," reports the Charlotte Observer.
Not only did the church suffer upwards of $250,000 worth of damage, but its young people who had signed up to attend the day camp were displaced.
As a veteran Summer Vacation Bible Schooler myself, I know first-hand how worthwhile that experience is. To have a place to go during the week when school is out is vital to the safety and nurturing of our young people.
Not only did someone torch a black church, an institution with a long history of advocacy in the black community, but he/she also took direct aim at crippling these young people. Young people who are more likely to agitate the status quo. Young people who carry the responsibility of making this country a better place.
I hate to sound all Dumbledore-ish, but there are dark times ahead of us, Harry. Dark times.
For those who want to believe the hatred against black churches isn't real, that these recent blazes are just a coincidence, that "it used to be like that but not anymore," allow me to direct you to this recent piece from Mother Jones: "The Recent Hateful History of Attacks on Black Churches."