By Bronwyn Petry
In the few weeks since the attack on the Emanuel A.M.E.Church in Charleston, where nine people died after being shot in a racist act of domestic terrorism, there have been eight other Black churches burned in the South.
Eight churches. In just about two weeks. Below is a partial list.
On June 21, the College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church sustained structural damage when the bales of hay surrounding it were lit on fire.
On June 23, the God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon burned to the ground.
As well on June 23, the Briar Creek Baptist Church in North Carolina lost an entire back wing to a fire — the loss was estimated to cost approximately $250,000.
On June 24, it is alleged that the Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Knoxville was struck by lightning.
On June 25, the Glover Grove Missionary Baptist Church in South Carolina burned, as did the Greater Miracle Temple Apostolic Holiness Church, in Tallahassee.
On July 1st, the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church was completely lost.
These tragedies have, so far, been woefully under-reported by the mainstream media.
While it has been covered by local news sources and publications like The Atlantic, national and international news outlets have been slow to discuss it. Indeed, it seemed to take several days for media to even pick up on the story, much less report it.
If not for Twitter creating the hashtag #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, perhaps we wouldn’t even be having this conversation — which is a necessary, and vital one.
Considering that this is happening in the wake of the shootings at Emanuel, these acts of arson seem targeted to send a particular message of hate. Churches are highly symbolic places of worship. Churches are places of community, of gathering — and by attacking a church, an ideological message is being sent: you are not safe anywhere. You do not get anything sacred.
As many people have pointed out, attacking Black churches is different than anything else.
Consider just a brief snapshot of their history: starting as hush harbors, becoming safe houses and way stations during the Underground Railroad, often functioning as literal walls between life and death. They have long been used not only as places of worship—but shelter—a place to organize politically; a place for family members to reunite and pass messages.
The symbolism behind these particular attacks then is almost too much to bear.
It seems designed to not only prove that the killer at Emanuel wasn’t an isolated racist wingnut, but the first leak in the dam; that his act, combined with the latest protests against the Confederate flag, is enough to start a war over.
Because if we are being honest, these are acts designed to start, or more accurately, bring an existing war into the open. The very least we can be doing is talking about it honestly and out in the open.
We need to demand that our media openly discuss and report important topics of human rights, using the right terms to describe them. If something is racist, we must first be able to call it such, without using cushioning language to protect each other from the truth.
We need to be talking about these churches burning — we need to be accountable to our fellow human beings. Even if the words are hard to find.
Especially if the words are hard to find.
*previously published on Medium.
Bronwyn Petry is a writer, editor, activist and nomad currently living in Toronto with her husband and their menagerie of animals. She spends her days writing, reading, walking many dogs, running, and thinking about how to be a better human being and leave the world a better place. You can connect with her on her Facebook page or on Instagram.
Photo: Erik Olson/Flickr
Editor: Dana Gornall