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How Black Church Tragedies Have Sparked Change In America

By Rosaland Tyler

Associate Editor

New Journal and Guide

     Swift unexpected change came on the heels of the Birmingham church bombing in 1963, like it recently did in Charleston where nine people were murdered in a church.

    While that September 1963 hate crime left six children dead in a Birmingham church, it also sparked swift, unexpected change. The next year the Senate passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act by a vote of 73-27 in July 1964. Records show more Republicans voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act than Democrats.

    Now, a recent hate crime in South Carolina suggests history is repeating itself. Specifically, nine murdered bodies in a Charleston church launched the removal of Confederate flags from statehouses in South Carolina, Alabama, and from license plates in Virginia. Meanwhile, Portsmouth Councilman Mark Whitaker recently proposed removing the Confederate monument at the corner of High and Court streets. In Tennessee, Democrats and Republicans recently called for the removal of a bust of Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from an alcove outside the Senate’s chambers.

  Of her decision to encourage the removal of the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds in South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley, who is a Native American, recently said in the Washington Post, “This flag didn’t cause those nine murders, but the murderer used this flag with him as hate to do it. And this isn’t an issue of mental illness; this is an issue of hate.”

In a recent interview, Virginia State Senator Kenny Alexander agreed. The nine recent murders in Charleston were hate crimes, he said.  “I think you can say two things about that situation. First it was an act of hate, no question about it. That was a hate crime. No. 2, it is terrorism and you can’t deny it.”


    “The reason was to send a political message; whatever that message may be,” Alexander said. “People gather at churches in a very peaceful and civil way.  

  Some Southern traditions are clearly yielding to economic development. For example, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz operate auto plants in Alabama. Volkswagen and Nissan build cars in Tennessee, while Kia does the same in Georgia.      

Amid the current wave, what remains is the task of talking about race, said Dr. Carol Pretlow, an associate professor of political science at Norfolk State University and founder of the Consortium for Global Studies, a think tank on foreign policy.

    “What will it take to tackle this problem?” Pretlow asked. “For years I have been upset about this flag.”

     But removing the Confederate flag is largely symbolic and it skirts the underlying issues that people need to talk about, Pretlow said.  

     “I am sorry that this young man got to this point. But what he did, well, it did not come out of nowhere,” Pretlow said. “And there are underlying issues we should address.”

Read entire story in the New Journal and Guide, July 9-15.

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