Four years ago, the historic election of Barack Obama was tempered by a hideous local crime: the burning of the African-American Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield.
Three city men were subsequently convicted of arson in the case, and last year, congregants celebrated the opening of a newly rebuilt Macedonia Church. As Election Day approaches, the Springfield branch of the NAACP is advising local churches on how to protect their properties against similar attacks.
Last week, the Rev. Talbert Swan II, president of the branch, sent a letter to religious leaders in the city in which he noted that the election of an African-American president has not led the country into a "post-racial" era, as many would like to believe. "In many ways, electing a black president has worsened race relations by causing more racial animus and latent racism," wrote Swan, pointing to the rising number of hate groups. "Deep-seated racism has come to the forefront and Barack Obama's presidency has brought our country face to face with our troubling racial past. President Obama has become a mirror for America's racial attitudes— reflecting stereotypes, perceptions, fears, hopes and highlighting the nation's complicated racial history. ...
"The racist beehive was disturbed with the election of Barack Obama, and we are hearing a lot of buzzing from those eager to reframe issues of concern in ways that invoke racial fears among some white voters," Swan continued. "Affirmative action, poverty, education, language, taxation, health care, immigration and welfare are all topics that are dividing the valley and the nation along racial lines."
Another heated topic: the push in many parts of the country to require voters to present ID at the polls, which the NACCP and other civil rights groups describe as an effort to suppress voters of color, young and elderly voters, and other groups that are less likely to have the required government-issued documentation—and, not incidentally, as Swan wrote, that "are also among the voting demographics who are most likely to support workers' rights, equal opportunity, women's rights, environmental protection and peace."
In light of that tense political and social climate, the NAACP sent church leaders a 19-page document outlining practical ways to protect their properties, produced by Christianity Today International and Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. In addition, the branch sent them a "clergy toolkit" prepared by the Let My People VOTE campaign, which focuses on increasing voter participation and eliminating voting barriers for people of color.
"I am confident that with all of us working together through the Let My People VOTE movement, we will prove that we will not be silenced, our votes will count, and by gaining political power, we will move in a right direction for our families," Swan wrote in a cover letter that accompanied the toolkit.