Fundraiser for black churches destroyed by arson surpasses $2 million

Millions have been pledged to rebuild the famous Notre Dame cathedral, prompting support for three smaller churches intentionally burned to the ground.

Fundraiser for black churches destroyed by arson surpasses $2 million
FILE - In this April 4, 2019 file photo, firefighters and fire investigators respond to a fire at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, in Opelousas, La. Authorities have arrested a person in connection with suspicious fires at three historic black churches in southern Louisiana, a federal prosecutor said. The suspect was in state custody, U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph announced late Wednesday, April 10 in a news release labeling the fires “despicable acts.” (Leslie Westbrook/The Advocate via AP, File) (LESLIE WESTBROOK)

ST. LANDRY PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Millions of donations continue to pour in for the famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris after a devastating fire burned it to the ground Monday. On Tuesday, it prompted donors to do the same for three black churches destroyed by arson in Louisiana.

Fundraiser for burned St. Landry churches surpasses $1.8M goal

“I think it’s a big deal for string of black church burnings to be happening in the south in 2019,” said Megan Romer, a writer in Lafayette.

In a 24-hour span, over $1 million had been raised for the St. Landry Parish churches.

The GoFundMe campaign was widely shared on social media Tuesday. Many donors noted that while hundreds of millions have already been pledged to rebuild the famous Notre Dame cathedral, the small churches were still struggling.

So the Lafayette writer took to Twitter, reminding followers there was a need at home for the Louisiana churches she says are also historical. In just 24 hours and thousands of re-tweets later, they’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Romer’s screenshot of the campaign taken early Tuesday morning showed it had raised $92,939. That number skyrocketed to over $950,000 by Wednesday morning thanks in part to the circulation on Twitter by former first lady and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, CNN anchor Jake Tapper, and journalist Yashar Ali.

“My heart is broken over the loss of Notre Dame,” Romer tweeted. “The Catholic Church is also one of the world’s wealthiest entities. If you are going to donate money to rebuild a church this week, I implore you to make it the black churches in St. Landry Parish.”

“We just stepped out on faith,” says Reverend Freddie Jack with the Seventh District Baptist Association. “We prayed and God has moved, and we see it. It’s evident.”

The call to the community comes after several church fires in Opelousas.
The call to the community comes after several church fires in Opelousas.

"These churches are literally the soul of their communities. They will never reach the level of attention that Notre Dame will. They are equally as deserving," Elaine Syres said.

“Notre Dame will be made whole, so should these holy places,” Philip Feldman wrote.

The campaign was started on Wednesday, April 10 by the Seventh District Baptist Association, which includes 54 Baptist churches in southwest Louisiana, including the three that were burned.

"These churches are historically important, maybe not on a world-wide scale, but to the families who have been parishioners for decades," Carissa Smith wrote on campaign's page.

Romer says each church holds a special piece of history for St. Landry Parish; the bodies of people born enslaved still call those church grounds home.

“It’s not fun history to teach,” Romer said. “It’s not fun history to talk about. It’s more pleasant to talk about wars you won and beautiful things you built, which Norte Dame is, a beautiful amazing work of art.”

She says that’s the motivation behind the tweet. She wants to see all history preserved so the people of St. Landry are not forgotten.

“We’re going to stand up and do what we can do to help them, at least monetarily, recover from it,” Romer said. “We’re not necessarily going to be able to heal those wounds, but at least we can get their building built back up.”

The fundraiser surpassed its goal of $1.8 million on Thursday, April 18. Donations poured in from people in all 50 states and more than 40 countries and territories. More than 35,000 people managed to hit the goal in just 7 days. It was shared more than 150,000 times and more than 35,000 people donated.

“It’s people that are pledging $5, $10, $100, $1,000, which is big, but it’s not millions, and that’s okay,” Romer said. “It doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be 1.8 million. That’s it.”

“I didn’t expect it, but I believed God and entrusted him for it,” Jack said. “There’s a whole lot of love being shown and the money that’s filtering in. We’re just thankful to God.

St. Landry church leaders seek donations to rebuild bigger and better churches

The fires began on March 26 in St. Landry Parish, and within 10 days, three historically black churches were torched in what federal authorities are calling hate crimes.

The man accused of setting them, Holden Matthews, 21, is the son of a deputy sheriff and has been charged with three counts of arson of a religious building, and three charges of hate crimes - one for each blaze.

“You have caused pain and you have caused hurt, but know this, you cannot destroy our faith. We can have church anywhere,” said Dana Nichols, ATF special agent in charge for New Orleans.

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