For the life of me, I can’t imagine how it would feel to have the street directly in front of my driveway, along with our farm’s sign and even nearby street signs, defaced with obscene and intimidating language designed to torment my family. And yet that is what happened last weekend to a community in our immediate area.
Little Africa is but one of numerous African American communities formed throughout the South after the Civil War. Among current residents are descendants of the founders, former slave Simpson Foster and a Cherokee Indian, Emanuel Waddell. The original 500 acres that Foster and Waddell set aside for their relatives not only saw the property traditionally farmed for generations, but was also the site of a two-room schoolhouse that taught local students, and most notably, one of South Carolina’s Rosenwald fund schools was erected. And nearby the school, in 1912, family community members built Fairview CME Church.
The bucolic setting, with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and graced by the Pacolet River flowing alongside, must have been a welcome and safe refuge for the new families who called it home during the years of Jim Crow and persecution by white supremacists.
Yet here we are again as the residents of this quiet community awoke to see their sign defaced with a swastika and walls along the overpass spray-painted with degrading slurs and an exclamation point punctuating “White Power!”
It’s ironic to me that when I strive to define the word, “power,” I find it’s all about “having the capacity or the ability to influence the behavior of others or the course of events.” Spray painting a median wall while hiding within the cover of darkness seems a pretty anemic attempt in which to do so, and the results couldn’t have missed its intended mark more. While I can only imagine that, yes, there must have been initial stabs of fear and intimidation that went through the hearts of residents, it was soon replaced by the dogged perseverance of this community as members quietly scrubbed away and painted over — not once, but twice, after yet another immediate attack — that has been required to survive, and thrive, since its inception, not unlike other African American communities throughout the deep south.
Knowing that neighbors and strangers arrived to assist, and a flourishing Gofundme account was set up to help pay for damages as well as inflate a substantial reward, is comforting to those who are appalled, yet not surprised, by the actions of those who live with an intensity of hatred and intolerance for people they don’t even know.
We’re a quiet area, a rural area. I’d like to think we’re a welcoming area. From recent appearances, we’re also proving to be a protective and supportive area.
Spray painted threats are just that. Words on walls. Temporary, impotent. And no match for the tenacity of dignity, courage and faith. The revered theologian Howard Thurman dared to take it further:
“Of all weapons, love is the most deadly and devastating, and few there be who dare trust their fate in its hands.”