The first six were black places of worship, but now a Catholic church serving mostly white parishioners has been attacked.
Around the turn of the 20th century, a man named George Clemons decided to pitch a tent and start a church. In 1902, people flocked to the outdoor revival services on Semple Avenue in north St. Louis and soon a new sanctuary was built on donated land. Back then, there was a steeple bell that rang to signal the start of Sunday school and tolled when a member passed on to Glory. The congregation, now known as New Northside, became the first black Baptist church planted to the west of Kingshighway Boulevard—breaking indelible lines of segregation once common across St. Louis—when it built a new home out of Goodfellow in Jennings.
That history was marred 12 days ago when New Northside became the second church targeted in a string of seven arson attacks in the past two weeks. The first was reported Oct. 8 at nearby Bethel Non-Denominational Church in Jennings, a tiny suburb that sits just west of the St. Louis City line and a few miles from Ferguson, Missouri.
The good news is that no one has been hurt in the blazes and the damage thus far has been limited, except in a few cases. In each incident, someone set fire to the front door—often in the wee hours of the morning—and disappeared before sunrise. Until Thursday, when a largely white Catholic parish downtown was targeted, all were historically black churches situated a stone’s throw of one another in poor and working-class neighborhoods.
“Churches are a place for worship. They’re a place of sanctuary,” St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said earlier this week. “Someone who would commit such a crime is atrocious.”
While some of the structures were century-old historic sites, like St. Joseph, others were converted storefronts like New Testament Church in Christ. Quietly, though, local public officials question if the perpetrator is motivated by racial or religious bias. Others wonder whether it is a hate crime at all or someone playing a dangerous prank. Investigators have said little about what might have spurred the attacks. However, according to a statement released by state and federal authorities, they believe whoever is behind the arsons is out to “send a message.”
Source: The Daily Beast | Goldie Taylor