We Are (Possibly) Better Than This

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Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church. Photo by Angie Quezada/ Delta Daily News

Another sliver-of-hope-within-a-looming-abyss kind of day. In the latest attack on what has historically been a symbol of the heart of the black community, an unknown cretin (or group of same) torched the 111-year-old, all-black Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, Miss. and spraypainted "Vote Trump" on its side. The evident act of arson was committed in Trump's name even as dismal new reports suggested the candidate himself has long enjoyed mob connections, has worked to suppress the black vote, and has encouraged armed uprisings by right-wing militia thugs - saying things like, “I will be there to render assistance to my fellow countrymen, and prevent them from being disarmed, and I will fight and I will kill and I may die in the process” - if things don't pan out.

The Tuesday night fire at the Hopewell Church, with about 200 members in a city that's almost 80% black, is being investigated by federal authorities as a hate crime. Though there were no injuries, the fire mirrored many other acts of terrorism against black churches long targeted as symbols of refuge from and resistance to racism in the Jim Crow South; in a 1960 interview, Rev. Martin Luther King called 11 a.m. on Sundays "one of the most segregated hours" in America. In 1963, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., which killed four young black girls, is widely viewed as leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year.

“We know what the black church means to the black community," said Mayor Errick Simmons, Greenville's first black mayor, after the Hopewell fire. Calling the fire a “hateful and cowardly act” sparked by Trump's incendiary rhetoric, he said, "This is a direct assault on black folks. It goes to the heart of intimidating folks...It happened in the ’50s. It happened in the ’60s. But it should not happen in 2016."

Many others evidently agreed. Shortly after news of the fire surfaced, a GoFundMe page appeared to raise money to repair the church. "The animus of this election cycle, combined with the potent racial history of burning black churches as a political symbol, makes this event something we must not ignore," wrote its organizer. “Can we help show the world, the country, and most importantly, the churchgoers of Hopewell Baptist that we, as a society, are better than this? Please give.” People did, arguing love defeats hate. The project's original goal was $10,000. In less than two days, it raised just shy of $200,000. Wrote one $10 contributor, "This too shall pass." We hope.

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The four victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, during another ugly time.

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