INC NEWS -
Burning crosses ignite revulsion in Durham (News & Observer)
bwatu at yahoo.com
Fri May 27 08:52:58 EDT 2005
Last night, 600 people gathered near the three sites
of the hate crimes.
250 people (from different parts of Durham) gathered
at Oval Park to demonstrate the power of unity against
Folks from St. Luke's, St. John's in Walltown, and
Rabbi Friedman spoke -- along with the district police
commander and 25 others.
We read a letter from the president of the Interfaith
Alliance in Washington, DC, supporting the organizers
of the vigils saying, "the entire interfaith movement
in America stands with you."
The religious coalition felt strongly that an
immediate response was important. We also emphasized
that a city-wide event was being planned for the days
In talking with the other organizers, it's clear that
last night's vigils were a positive, powerful and
affirming response to these acts of hatred.
Burning crosses ignite revulsion in Durham
Racist acts - Community response
(News & Observer, 27 May 2005)
The crosses were raised quickly at night, and by
morning not much remained but ashes, pieces of burned
burlap and some kindling.
Still, the three symbols of Southern racism that were
lit Wednesday night at three locations across Durham
seared the conscience of the community. It responded
with vigils, hymns and candle-lit events intended to
send a loud message: Cross burnings will not be
"People in Durham are not going to let this go down,"
said Theresa El-Amin, director of the Southern
Anti-Racism Network in Durham, who organized a
community breakfast at 8 a.m. today at the Mad
Hatter's Cafe and Bake Shop on West Main Street. "This
is a mean and evil thing."
Durham police were investigating Thursday, but a
police representative said they had few leads into
incidents that took place in the span of an hour. The
Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into the
possibility of a civil rights violation.
The crosses were about 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
They were wrapped in burlap and doused in a flammable
liquid, according to a police news release.
The first cross burning, at Interstate 85 and
Hillandale Road, was called in to 911 shortly after 9
p.m. Within a half-hour, another was reported on South
Roxboro Street, near Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.
By 10:28 p.m., the third cross was reported in a field
near Holloway and Dillard streets.
Only one of the crosses was in what might be
considered a predominantly black neighborhood. Black
neighborhoods were historically the target of many
racist-inspired cross burnings during the 1960s.
Durham Police Chief Steve Chalmers said he was called
at home and told about the burnings about 10:30 p.m.
"I am certainly in a state of shock and disbelief,"
A piece of paper left at one of the sites contained a
reference to the Ku Klux Klan and called on gangs to
"cease and desist."
Two things seemed certain Thursday night. The burnings
probably took more than one person to choreograph, and
they did not appear to be a prank.
Gene Troy, a specialist with the N.C. Human Relations
Commission, which is investigating, said the locations
had one thing in common. They were highly visible,
either from the road or from a distance.
There are 30 to 50 reported cases of cross burnings
across the country each year, said Joe Roy, chief
investigator for the Intelligence Project at the
Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. Many
are organized by the KKK.
North Carolina has 37 active hate groups, including
neo-Confederate and neo-Nazi organizations, according
to the center's database. But the Klan is probably the
"You've got a lot of Klan presence in North Carolina
-- always have," Roy said. "Something may have touched
Still, it has been decades since the Triangle has seen
any burnings by the Klan. Rabbi John Friedman of
Durham's Judea Reform Congregation said he remembered
a Klan march through the city in 1981. But he added:
"I thought the Klan was passe. I know there's race
hatred, but I thought it had new names and disguises,
so I was taken aback by this."
During the Jim Crow era, it was common to hear of men
in white hooded masks staging cross burnings across
the South. Such burnings, which were tied to
lynchings, beatings and other crimes, were used as
tools of intimidation and harassment of blacks and
The memory of such acts brought a spontaneous reaction
in neighborhoods across the city. At least three
neighborhood associations quickly organized vigils,
and the city's Human Relations Commission is planning
a citywide event at a date to be determined.
"It was important to respond quickly and let folks
know there's no place for this, and the community is
outraged," said John Schelp, president of the Old West
Durham Neighborhood Association.
A few churches opened their doors to people who wanted
to come together and pray. One such church, Lakewood
United Methodist, a multiracial congregation, led the
"This is a violent act, and a violent act hurts," said
Marcia Owen, outreach coordinator of the Religious
Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham and a member of
Lakewood United Methodist. "It's very healing to be
with others and with God, and to be reminded of who we
are so our hearts don't get hardened."
At Thursday evening's vigils, coordinated by the
Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, turnout
was large and emotional. About 200 people held candles
at Oval Drive Park near Hillandale Road.
Their message to the people behind the burnings:
Durham is not a place for racism and hatred.
In the open space at the Holloway-Dillard
intersection, more than 100 people held candles and
planted a bush.
"It's very frightening," said Jessica Eustice, 44, who
lives in the Duke Park neighborhood. "Why here? Why
now? Who did it, and what do they want? I came here to
stand for a civil society."
Bryan Proffitt, 26, who also lives in Duke Park, said
he was not shocked by the burnings; there are many
forms of racism in society, he said.
"It's just a symbol of a culture that we live in every
day," Proffitt said. "It should cause us to reflect on
the society that it comes from."
He said much needs to be done to address the problems
faced by many people.
About 9 p.m., another large gathering lined up along a
sidewalk on South Roxboro Street near where one of the
crosses was burned.
Marie Brodie, 41, fighting tears, said people in
Durham want to show the people who burned the crosses
that they are not the majority.
"It's confusing, and it's sickening," Brodie said.
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