south carolina

Report: Fire at Black Church in S.C. Was Not Arson, Feds Say

REUTERS / Clarendon County Fire Department / RNS

Fire crews try to control a blaze at the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina in this June 30, 2015 handout photo. Photo via REUTERS / Clarendon County Fire Department / RNS

Although arson is blamed for at least three fires over the past two weeks at several predominantly black churches in Southern states, a blaze that destroyed Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina was not deliberately set, according to a federal source, the Associated Press reported July 1.

Churchgoers had feared the worst because the church in Greeleyville, S.C., was burned to the ground by the KKK in 1995. The latest fire broke out June 30 during a night of frequent storms and lightning strikes.

Horizons of Hope

sunsetincharleston

Sunset in Charleston, S.C. Image via /shutterstock.com

How could there have been people outside the South Carolina state house this weekend driving around in pick-up trucks with confederate flags attached to their beds, declaring "Heritage, not hate"? How could passerbys affirm these protests with shouts of "Long live the South"? How can people still deny that racism is deeply embedded in our culture? How can they not see that we must confront the harmful words and acts so that everyone may know they are beloved children of God and that their lives matter not just to God, but to their communities as well?

Charleston Is Testing the Soul of America

charleston

Congregants of the Greater Allen A.M.E. in New York gathered to march in solidarity with the victims and members of Emanuel AME in Charleston, S.C., a katz / Shutterstock.com

On Wednesday, June 17, a young believer in white supremacy invaded the sacred sanctuary of the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. There he murdered nine black Christians who were gathered together for their weekly Wednesday night prayer meeting. The killer had been welcomed by the African Methodist Episcopal church members to join them in prayer when he walked in, and he sat with them for more than an hour before he pulled out his gun and shot them dead at the prayer table. They were targeted and killed because they were black.

It is painfully true that in our time, in this year, in the United States, there is still no safe space for black people in America — even in their own churches. Racism is America’s original sin. It expresses itself explicitly and overtly in what we horribly saw last week in a black church, but racism continues on, implicitly and covertly, in American institutions and culture.

Packing Hate and Risking Love

Charleston vigil

Candlelight vigil in New York for the Charleston shooting victims on June 21. a katz / Shutterstock.com

The sickness in our society is driven by the way we mistrust and pull away from one another; how we decide to care only about ourselves and our immediate families; the way we choose to serve only those who are like us – same race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion, political views.

Everyone else gets minimized and pushed away. We arm ourselves to protect our shrinking little space. We live like moles, wary of predators.

In guns we trust. In fear we live.

Hearing Stories of the Past

Storytelling, Ivelin Radkov / Shutterstock.com

Storytelling, Ivelin Radkov / Shutterstock.com

I walked down the newly plowed row with my grandpa, feeling the warm, red clay on the soles of my bare feet and listening to his stories and words of advice. I held a tomato plant in my hands, the rich, black potting soil falling off of the small, vulnerable roots, as he knelt and dug a place for it in the garden. “Hey,” he’d often start, “here's something my daddy told me when I was little. ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth because He wants you to listen twice as much as you speak. If you do that, you'll learn something. If you don't, you won't.’”

The memory of walking with my grandpa in his garden came back to me after I read about The Faith and Politics Institute's Civil Rights Pilgrimage in which more than 250 people (including 30 members of Congress) took a three-day tour of civil rights landmarks from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to Montgomery to Selma. The participants in the pilgrimage got to hear the stories of the struggle for justice from the people who were in those places 50 years ago. I especially remember grandpa’s stories about his childhood on the family dairy farm in Greenville, S.C. in the 1920s. I liked to hear stories about the black folks who came and worked with him and his family. I heard hard work in his voice and saw struggle in his face when he talked about those times.

Voting Rights Act Challenge: The Fight Continues

Richard Ellis/Getty Images

President of the South Carolina NAACP speaks at a rally in support of the Voting Rights Act. Richard Ellis/Getty Images

I was on the airplane, looking forward to reading Taylor Branch’s new book, The King Years: Historical Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. As I opened my Kindle, I realized that it offered large excerpts of Branch’s previous works, and was glad that while I have the other books in hard cover, I had these stories in my Kindle. But as I re-read some of the accounts, I realized that my 40-something-old self reacted differently than when I first read some of the accounts when I was 20-something. My younger self yearned to know: How did they organize? How did they deal with differing motives and different movements? And I yearned to believe that I, too, would have sacrificed my being for “The Movement.”

My late 40-something-old self read these words as a mother — as someone who understood the fury of the parents who were scared as their children sacrificed their very lives for justice’s sake.

All Eyes on Texas, S.C. Church Property Fights

cdrin and iofoto / Shutterstock

Historic little wooden church and Businessman and businesswoman yelling at each other. cdrin and iofoto / Shutterstock

When disgruntled congregations have left hierarchical denominations such as the Episcopal Church, they’ve often lost property battles as civil courts ruled buildings and land are not theirs to keep.

But outcomes could be different this year, court watchers say, as high-profile cases involving dozens of Episcopal congregations in South Carolina and Texas wind their way through state courts. That prospect has observers watching for insights that could shape legal strategies in other states and denominations.

Both cases involve conservative dioceses that voted to leave the Episcopal Church over homosexuality, among other issues. In South Carolina, congregations representing about 22,000 people are suing the Episcopal Church for control of real estate worth some $500 million and rights to the diocese’s identity. In Texas, the national Episcopal Church is suing about 60 breakaway congregations in the Fort Worth area for properties estimated to be worth more than $100 million.

Simply Seeing

Infographic by Immigration Policy Center

Infographic by Immigration Policy Center

Nikki Haley, the governor of my state, recently signed the South Carolina Illegal Immigration and Reform Act. The law, which is part of a recent wave of state immigration legislation, goes into effect in January. As she signed the bill, she stated:

What Im concerned about is the money were losing because of illegal immigration in this state. The money thats lost in education and medical services and workers and employment and all of those things is well beyond millions of dollars …”

It is dehumanizing when you refer to people only in terms of money. Further, the research does not support the governors statement.

According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented workers in South Carolina paid $43.6 million in state and local taxes in 2010. Another study outlined the losses to the state if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from South Carolina. The state would lose $1.8 billion in economic activity, $782.9 million in gross state product and approximately 12,059 jobs.

Living Letters

Photo of pile of letters, Kudryashka / Shutterstock.com

Photo of pile of letters, Kudryashka / Shutterstock.com

I love to receive letters. When I was a little boy, I lived on a long, straight street and I could see the mail truck coming from a long way off. After the mailman stopped in front of our house, I ran with hope in my heart down our front walkway, between our two giant maple trees and across the street to our mailbox. Would there be a letter for me? Was someone in the world thinking of me?

One day last year it was not the mailman, but a second-grader on the school playground, who handed a letter to me. I unfolded it.

"Dear Mr. Barton, hi it Odeth from 2th grade I miss you a lot I wanted to know about you so much I am being good I am in 4th grade Do you miss me.  I live in __________  I go to school in __________  I hope you will come to my school … can you come visit me in school ask for my name…I am 10 year old I want you to come to my school.

Your best student,

Odeth"

What a wonderful thing, to be remembered by a student.

Riding the Bus to Equality

School bus interior, Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

School bus interior, Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

Every morning at 7:15, the doors of our school open wide to a line of bus riders ready to come inside. "Hello, Jaheem. Hi, Kiara. Hey, Imani. Hope you're having a good day, Omar," I call out as the students walk past me to the cafeteria for breakfast. I stand at the doors for a moment and watch the big, yellow buses puff their diesel exhaust and chug their way to the garage until it's time for their afternoon run.

Is there a more universal symbol for public schools than a big, yellow school bus?

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