The Old South

Black churches recently set ablaze in the South? Yes, you should be concerned.

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."

Y'all need to take down the Confederate flag

A little while ago, CNN reported Walmart will stop selling merchandise with the Confederate flag. Earlier today, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the flag, which currently flies on the grounds of the state Capitol. A couple of days ago, Mitt Romney tweeted it needed to come down, adding "To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims." 

All of this comes a few days after a psycho racist white guy shot up a black church in Charleston, killing nine people. 

The night the news broke about the massacre, it was difficult for me to fall asleep. I was alone in our two-story townhome with the dogs. From the bed, I kept staring at the stairs, expecting a villain to appear out of the darkness. It was like I expected the killer, who'd yet to be apprehended, to come get me or something. I mentally calculated how far away Charleston was from Augusta. He could dash up I-26 and hook a left onto I-20, taking him straight here. Who would suspect a mass murderer to be hiding in a town known for golf tournament? It could have been the perfect escape plan.

I know that's crazy. But the fact that someone entered a place of worship and intentionally shattered the invisible curtain of peace is so terrifying. The callous way this guy took the lives of people who merely looked different from him, who offered him kindness even though he was a stranger, was overwhelming. It shook me to my core. 

It's not that the Charleston massacre inspired fear for my own life. I'm half white and half Korean - thanks to my dad's genes, I'm statistically not likely to be the victim of racist violence. I was -- I am -- scared for humanity.

How do you fix deeply rooted racism like this? How does a city, a state, a country find healing in such violent times? To paraphrase something my old journalism professor said to me recently, the genie’s been let out of the bottle already -- is there any way to force it back in ? 

Of course, that professor was talking about gun control, but at the root of such a tragedy like this is some people’s inability to see that we’re all humans, no matter the pigment of our skin.

How do you heal a wound whose stitches are constantly being reopened by privilege and ignorance? How do you repair the shredded cloth of humanity with a single needle and thread?

I don't have the answers. What I do know is that removing all semblances of the old, bigoted South from public property is as good a start as any. South Carolina legislator Doug Brannon says he plans to introduce a bill as soon as possible (December) to remove the flag from state property.

Georgia and Mississippi, feel free to jump on the bandwagon here.

Here in Augusta, just down the street from where we live, there's a home with the Confederate battle flag flying high for all to see. The house, situated next to a gas station, is located on a four-lane road with moderate traffic. The flag, anchored by a 50-foot pole, is a part of the Flags Across Georgia project by the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, working "to commemorate the War and to promote Southern heritage." It's enormous, overbearing and flies with an arrogance unmatched by any other piece of cloth. It's one of the first things I see every time I exit the highway, and the discomfort hasn't lessened yet.

There's no way we as a country can move forward if we're giving ourselves whiplash with nostalgia. It's 2015, and the South has become a rich mecca of vastly different cultures. Take down the Confederate battle flag -- it's time for a new symbol to commemorate Southern heritage.