Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Church Fires Suggest Amorphous Racism That Must Not Be Ignored

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Church Fires Suggest Amorphous Racism That Must Not Be Ignored

Article excerpt

Hamil R. Harris is my colleague and he is black. Both are relevant. He demanded of me the other day why I had not written a column about the burning of black churches. I replied, What's to write? The burnings are wrong. They're horrible. But they're like a forest fire or tornado - a tragedy but not an issue for a column. Harris, unconvinced, accused me of having a double standard. Maybe he is right.

In the black community, Harris told me, it's been said that this sort of thing could never happen to synagogues. Never mind that it has, both here and abroad, and never mind either that this black fixation with Jews is sometimes a little crazy. What he is saying - what is being said - is that once again blacks feel that they have no power. They cannot even protect their churches.

In a generic sense, I know these churches. They are off the highway and down a dirt road. They are set in a clearing and sometimes two or more churches have been built on the same spot, one over the other like graves in places where land is tight. Since they are often wooden, they burn easily - frequently by accident, sometimes not. The ones I've visited often have plaques about the former building: torched during the civil rights era.

When I have been to these places, I try to imagine them as they were in the 1960s, when the woods were somehow darker and more dense and the Klan came at night, old cars swaying in the ruts of the road, to kill, beat or scare the mostly white kids from the North and the mostly black kids from the South. The black church of the South was the one institution not controlled by whites. Maybe that's why it was so detested.

But that is no more. Today's burnings are disconnected from some movement, from some effort to give blacks the vote or the front seat on some oven of a city bus. They have nothing to do with who goes to what school and whether the breeze in the public parks is for whites or for blacks or for both. They are not about political power or civil rights and they do not follow a threat - a telephone call, a note posted to the door, a buzz of a rumor making its way down the main street. No one can comply to any demand since, as far as we know, there are no demands. …

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