Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hate crime? Hours after election, black church burns

Sometime after 3 a.m., just hours after Barack Obama was declared the next president of the United States, the fire department in Springfield Massachusetts received an urgent call: the nearly constructed new home of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ was on fire. By 7 a.m. this morning, the building was declared a total loss-- about $2 million in damages. Three firefighters were slightly injured while fighting the blaze.

Pastor of the predominantly African-American church Bishop Bryant Robinson Jr. said that the church was down but not out. "Our belief in God will sustain us. ... Our faith is of such quality and maturity that we will be building." Robinson said. Springfield Republican

There were few reasons for the building to burn, Springfield Fire Department spokesperson Dennis Leger said, because the building was vacant and utilities to the 90%-completed building had not yet been connected. The fire is considered suspicious and by this morning the site was being examined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

State Representative Ben Swan, who was on his way to meet with Bishop Robinson when contacted, said that the community would be kept informed of developments. Bishop Robinson is a member of the Black Pastors Council, which held a Get Out the Vote for Obama rally last Saturday. (I was honored to be asked to speak.)

Springfield voters gave 75% of its vote to Barack Obama yesterday but at least a few of the 25% who cast their vote elsewhere suspect Bishop Robinson had the church burned for the insurance money, or that maybe church members went to the church to celebrate and set it on fire with a candle . Bishop Robinson says he's at a loss to understand why anyone would want to harm the church.

Bryant Robinson Jr. was Deputy Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools for many years and in line to become superintendent in 1989 when the when the Springfield School Committee decided to conduct a national search instead. Many Black leaders remain convinced to this day that the search was conducted so that Robinson could be passed over.

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