Since the horrific massacre at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, which left nine innocent people dead, and the ensuing debate that followed regarding the Confederate flag flying on state grounds in South Carolina and Alabama -- seven historically Black churches have burned down in just 10 days across four southern states. Mount Zion AME, the last church to burn, was previously victim to an arson attack by two members of the Ku Klux Klan on June 20, 1995.
According to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, the fact that these recent fires occurred in the wake of the Charleston shooting is cause for concern because of their potential to be retaliation for the backlash against the Confederate flag that followed the tragedy. After photos surfaced of suspect Dylann Roof with the Confederate flag and wearing White supremacist patches, retailers such as Walmart and Amazon suspended sales of the flag because of its popularity with White supremacists. Four of the flags were recently removed from the state capitol grounds in Alabama, and South Carolina lawmakers will decide whether or not to do the same next month. Websites popular with White supremacists, such as Stormfront.org, lit up with angry denouncements of the treatment of the Confederate flag. "The single most suspicious thing about these fires is that they came so close together and so hard on the heels of attacks on the Confederate battle flag, which is a revered symbol of the radical right," Potok told USA Today.
It also appears that a conversation I consider to be "false logic" has begun, and is being spread through some social media sites: that what occurred at Mother Emanuel AME Church and the recent fires at the seven churches can be explained away as being an attack on Christianity. This counter-narrative boggles the mind. If the egregious acts which have occurred were indeed an attack on Christianity, then the question must be asked: Why are churches with predominately White congregations not also experiencing some of the same acts of violence and being burned down? I am reminded of a quote by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as it related to the segregation that occurs in many of our faith communities, "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning."
So if one is to follow the purported "logic" being put forth, both the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church and the subsequent arson attacks -- which have all been at predominately Black churches -- would then lead one to hypothesize that Christianity, at least in some parts of the South, exists only in Black Churches. I do not accept this, and I strongly believe that a majority of people would find this conclusion to not only be false, but also an illogical conclusion. However, this type of counter-narrative allows some aspects of American society to avoid the more disturbing reality that the burning of churches is history repeating itself.
Over the years there has been a long list of attacks targeting predominantly Black churches in the United States as a mode of social control and as a manifestation of terror and White supremacy. It is not an accident that in many of those past cases the burnings involved members of the Ku Klux Klan and other White Supremacists.
Given this history -- how do we as a nation proceed from this abyss? At times such as these I find the writings of the late novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic and civil rights activist James Baldwin to offer a clarion call for action. Baldwin, in a 1962 article "Down at the Cross, a Letter from a Region of My Mind" that appeared in the New Yorker wrote:
If we -- and I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of others -- do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.
I believe that we must hold mainstream media accountable as well. More media time and coverage was given to the senseless burning of a CVS store in Baltimore than has been given to these recent church burnings. People on Twitter have said that what is happening is not receiving enough coverage from U.S. news organizations. Some individuals have been calling for more to be done to both cover these incidents and to investigate them under the hashtag #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, which has received more than 150,000 mentions in just seven days.
Baldwin in his seminal book The Fire Next Time wrote, "We must not ask whether it is possible for a human being to come truly moral, I think we must believe it is possible."
America -- we can, and must, be better and do better.
The time is now!