South Carolina journalist Johnson portrays black and white southerners uniting when racist vandals target an African-American church.
A vicious late 1984 assault on St. John Baptist Church, a small house of worship in Dixiana, South Carolina, deeply affected its loyal congregation. Ammie Murray, a white union official and coworker of a St. John’s congregant, was so outraged that she formed a committee to assist in the rebuilding, quickly winning the support of many local whites as well as the black community. The next several years were marked by sporadic rebuilding efforts, recurring attacks by local teenagers and Klan-types, threatening midnight phone calls, as well as physical assaults on Murray and her colleagues. Vandals dug up the church graveyard and violated graves, leaving evidence of satanic rituals. Local police and courts, under pressure from the community, made numerous arrests. The attack on St John’s proved only the first in what would become a wave of arson and destruction aimed at scores of rural black churches throughout the South, and because of their efforts, Murray and her cohorts ultimately gained national attention. Most touching was the determination of whites from states as far away as Texas and New York to help with the continued need for cleanup and vigilance. The author, herself involved in the rebuilding of St. John’s, writes knowledgeably of rural South Carolina and with awe and admiration of the courage of Murray and others who came together in a biracial cause. She suggests that faith, always a powerful component of Southern life, may hold the answer to any final solution of the region’s racial problems. Johnson also carefully details the actions of law enforcement authorities and civil rights attorneys who dealt with the region-wide outbreak of violence of which the St. John’s incidents proved a harbinger.
A confident, well-written account that delves without blinking into the depths of human depravity and emerges with an inspiring story.