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Church Burnings: 'Who on Earth Could Be So Mean?'

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Church Burnings: 'Who on Earth Could Be So Mean?'

Church Burnings: 'Who on Earth Could Be So Mean?'

Church Burnings: 'Who on Earth Could Be So Mean?'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5202569/5202570" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Church burnings in rural Alabama prompt reflections on the state's "black belt," a former plantation community that has played a pivotal role in African-American religious and political history.

DIANE ROBERTS reporting:

Their names sound like they came from the old time hymns. Rehoboth, Spring Valley, Dancy, Galilee, Antioch, Morning Star.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

WEEKEND EDITION Commentator Diane Roberts.

ROBERTS: They were not Wal-Mart-sized Wi-Fi megachurches possessed of seven-figure bank accounts and presided over by media-savvy preachers with press kits and television makeup, nor were they elegant Doric columned churches with classical porticos and important stained glass, the kind of churches tourists stop at to snap pictures.

They were little country churches in the back woods, off the back roads, with mostly black congregations, with mostly white congregations. Some made of brick, some made of wood, none much bigger than a double-wide house trailer, all plain as milk.

And all now smoke-stained and stinking of ash. It's as if one of the seven wicked vials of wrath had been opened in the Black Belt counties of Sumter, Pickens, Bibb and Green.

The Black Belt is the section of central Alabama where the dark alluvial soil nurtured the biggest, richest antebellum plantations. It was the epicenter of slavery. Later the Black Belt gave birth to the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King led marchers past Black Belt cottonfields on his way to Montgomery.

These days even the old, once grand houses are paint-peeling and raggedy. The place has more history than money and more sorrow than any place needs.

Members of the congregation, stamping their feet against the February cold, picking through charred pews to recover bibles, kept asking, Who could be so mean as to do something like this? Who on Earth could be so mean?

Some of the ladies of Antioch Baptist said it must have been the Devil. The fire started in the flowers set before the altar, flowers so lovely that only Satan could hate them so much.

The Devil is very much alive in the Black Belt, but so is forgiveness. The pastor of Dancy First Baptist, founded by freed slaves during the Reconstruction, told the newspapers he would pray for the people who torched his church. He said he will love them anyway.

On the TV news the pastor of Galilee pointed out that what they lost was just a building. The church is in the people. At the edge of the screen, a bunch of little kids ran around playing under the green budding trees.

HANSEN: WEEKEND EDITION Commentator Diane Roberts.

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