I saw this first at Pam’s House Blend, and then went and read the article at the Herald-Sun.  I think I’m going to be sick.  I cannot believe this happened in my town:

DURHAM — Three large crosses were burned in
separate incidents across Durham Wednesday night, the first time in
recent memory that one of the South’s most notorious symbols of racial
hatred has been seen in the city.


Yellow fliers with Ku Klux Klan sayings were found at one of the cross burnings.


The Durham Police Department is investigating the burnings. After the
third one was reported, the department ordered that any suspicious
cargo truck or large pickup truck be stopped.


“At this day and time, I thought we’d be beyond that,” said Mayor Bill
Bell. “People do things for different reasons, and I don’t have the
slightest idea why anyone would do this.”


Bell, who said he couldn’t recall a cross burning in Durham since he
arrived here in 1968, said he hadn’t received any calls, letters or
e-mails that would “remotely” suggest someone would target the city
with cross burnings.


The first burning was reported at 9:19 p.m. outside St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Hillandale Road at Interstate 85.


As police and firefighters were finishing their work there, a second
cross burning was reported at 9:54 p.m. along South Roxboro Street,
about a quarter-mile south of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Someone
had positioned the cross atop a large pile of dirt near an apartment
complex construction site to the west of South Roxboro Street.


“This is ridiculous,” Durham police Sgt. A.M. Batte said as she stood over the smoldering cross around 10:20 p.m.


Then the third burning was reported at 10:28 p.m. at Peachtree Place and Holloway Street downtown.


The crosses were about 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide, police said. They
were wrapped in burlap and doused in a liquid that smelled like
kerosene.

I just don’t have words for it.  It makes me so angry.  If I
found the people who did this putting one up in my yard, or my
neighborhood, I think I would hurt them.  I would hurt them a lot
Gods help those people if they ever show up in my yard, or my
neighborhood.  I’m angry enough to know these people are in my town.

Word is that St. Luke’s is gay-friendly, and there are murmurs in
the blogosphere that this might be tied to the Phelps clan showing up
earlier this month to protest at some churches (including St. Luke’s)
when Durham School of the Arts did a production of The Laramie
Project.  This kind of thing is so NOT the Phelps’ gang’s
style.  They protest all kinds of things, and in all kinds of
tasteless ways, but they are nothing if not legal in their
approaches.  They’re all lawyers, for fuck’s sake.  They like
to push the social envelope but not the legal one. 
And, like it or not, Rev. Phelps did do a tremendous amount of civil
rights work as an attorney, back in the day.  Such are the ironies
of mental illness, that he would be such a different person now. 
At any rate, I would be shocked to find out he would turn to such an
overtly racist expression of his hate given that history.  It just
doesn’t add up for me.  I think it’s a very big leap to associate
one band of admittedly freaky and ridiculous wingnuts with
cross-burnings two weeks later. 

If they’re tied together at all, I would suspect that the people who
did this were potentially in agreement with the Phelps gang, perhaps
even inspired by their visit, but it just doesn’t scan to hear that
this would be related to them.  I hate to defend the jackass, but
there you have it. 

So who would do this?  And why?  Durham is a historically
African-American town.  It’s the home of the first and biggest and
most successful African-American businesses in the state.  When
the state flattened part of town to build NC 147 (the Durham
Expressway), the part they flattened was, of all things, the town’s
business district.  Prior to then, it was known as “the Black Wall
Street” for the amount of money that flowed through the town and the
success of its entrepeneurs.  Durham has a rich history as an
African-American town, with a rich and valued culture of diversity and
acceptance.  It’s probably the biggest city in North Carolina
considered a “black town,” with the possible exception of Greensboro,
which also has a large African-American population and is home to a
number of historically African-American colleges and
universities.  The obvious explanation of why target Durham is
Durham’s history and Durham’s role in state history as a friendly, open
and accepting town.  We have a black mayor.  We have black
city officials.  We have black people. 

The areas targeted were downtown, a church that’s open and accepting of
everyone (including the queer community) and South Roxboro near Martin
Luther King, Jr. Parkway.  Let’s take a look at those locations.

St. Luke’s is at Hillandale & I-85. 
What else is around there?  The first thing I can think of is the
old Pan-Pan Diner.  It’s gone now, but it stood across I-85 for
decades and though I don’t know its full history there is no denying
that this place was an icon of the African-American culture of
Durham.  Remember the pictures that lined the walls of visiting
ministers, activists, choirs, stars – that place was a cultural
crossroads for years.  It’s a stretch to associate the cross with
Pan-Pan given it was in the front frickin’ yard of St. Luke’s, but St.
Luke’s is a big and very accepting church and I’d bet you can see where
Pan-Pan stood from its yard.  The hate that drives someone to burn
a cross is fueled by a particularly twisted version of Christianity
which claims that there are chosen people – straight and white, among
other things – who are superior to others.  Pan-Pan is gone now,
but that whole corner of the northern Durham I-85 corridor is a strong
symbol of the diametric opposites of the sort of people who burn
crosses in the first place and St. Luke’s, with its openness to the
community, is a great, big symbol of that with a cross on the top
It’s a part of town where families, college kids, oldsters and youth
could be found sharing everything from a church service to a 3am
breakfast buffet with chitlins on it
It’s also not a new part of town – it’s where suburbia was before the
I-40 corridor and RTP began to really dominate the geography of
Durham’s growth.  It’s old Durham suburbia, not the shiny new
suburbia of Woodcroft.  It’s where a lot of living happened and still happens, living in peace, and that drives supermacists of all stripes up the damn wall.

Next up there’s the spot on South Roxboro
Not a far hop from Hillendale, really, though it’s on the other side of
town.  What I find interesting is that it’s near a new apartment
complex that’s going up.  That part of Durham is one of the
fastest growing – near RTP and the other two urban points of the
Triangle, Chapel Hill and Raleigh, it’s seen tremendous growth in
recent years.  It’s where suburbia and the young-and-imported
office workers of RTP meet.  It’s also a very diverse and
relatively affluent area.  Within, what, a mile or two of the S.
Roxboro/Martin Luther King Jr. intersection there are the new Target,
the new Kroger, the new mall, the new parkway itself, and countless new
housing developments.  It’s also just a stone’s throw from the
southern edge of NC Central’s campus.  It’s an important part of
Durham’s growth, the northern tip of sprawling suburbia.  Yet
another place where a lot of living, and peaceful living at that,
happens – it’s where you’ll find both established and new families,
imports and natives.

Lastly, there’s Peachtree and Holloway.  Look it up on Yahoo! maps
Zoom out – go out to 4 or 5 on their scale, maybe even six.  See
that red star?  See the area around it that’s marked as
Durham?  You’re looking smack at the middle of the city. 
Also, not a far hop from Hillendale & I-85 or the S. Roxboro
location.  Durham’s downtown has had a lot of revitalization in
recent years.  Pam of Pam’s House Blend is herself familiar with
the whole Trinity Park phenomenon.  All that happens on the other
side of the downtown loop from where this cross was burned, but it’s
still the heart of the city.  I think that’s probably not a
coincidence.

It seems to me that whoever put these crosses up had a very calculated
message.  It seems to me, and here I’m just talking through my hat
but it beats letting the anger just boil inside me all day, it seems to me
that what they wanted to do was attack the heart of Durham, the older,
historically important part of Durham and the new and growing part of
Durham.  It was a clear message:  we don’t like you and we never have
I doubt the crosses can be pointed at anything more specific than the
whole of Durham’s history and Durham’s contemporary openness and
acceptance and active encouragement of its population.  Durham is
a powerful and highly diverse city, ethnically, racially and
sexually.  Its residents have made concerted efforts for many
years to clean up parts of town that were bad and in the process clean
up the city’s reputation among outside whites as someplace “dangerous”
or otherwise threatening.  You won’t find stronger neighborhood
ties than in Durham – more neighborhoods than I can count run listservs
and neighborhood watch programs, and whole city blocks will organize in
an instant to take care of problems like empty storefronts (see last
Sunday’s N&O’s Durham News section for info on the empty Kmart
plaza up in north Durham, near I-85).

Durham has problems and challenges galore, like any city, and I don’t
think anybody will lie to you about that.  But Durham is a town
that has actively tried to face those problems and do something about
them.  Those efforts have created some very tight-knit and
multi-cultural neighborhoods, alliances and groups that can be powerful
forces for change.  They haven’t solved all Durham’s problems by
any stretch of the imagination, but I can tell you that I’ve marched in
gay pride parades through the middle of Durham on the same day the Klan was holding a rally a few blocks away and I never once felt threatened or unwelcome.  I live here now,
for crying out loud.  Durham is a place that has, to my knowledge,
been pretty honest with itself and striven to address what’s wrong with
successful measures that include the community as much as anyone
else.  That sort of thing, out in the boonies – and sometimes just
down the street – can be terrifying to people whose only acceptable
explanation for their own situation is to look for a scapegoat and
attack it.  Inbred rednecks like the Klan or the Phelps gang or
whoever will always look to some Other to blame for their own
shortcomings.  When that Other is doing so much better than they
are – as is certainly not always, but is often the case
in Durham, where the downtown and suburban housing markets have boomed,
crime is down and the city sewer department gets out to fix your
problem in a day – it can drive them to acts of extremism to match
their own self-loathing and short-sightedness.  I think that’s
what happened here. 

Someone, I have no idea who but I’d love to see them in chains on the
news, decided that Durham, with its many peoples and many strengths and
a history of not backing down was to blame for something in their life, and they went out and tried to express that, and this is how they did it. 

I just wish they’d been a little less careful with the kerosene,
frankly.  I’ll take one immolated redneck over three burnt crosses
any old day.

I may be reading way too much into the placements.  I may be
stretching for understanding – only natural, most likely, given the
senselessness of the acts themselves.  But it seems to me that any
useful response is one that promotes understanding, if they wish to
promote ignorance and hate.  So I see it as worthwhile to try to
find – perhaps, more accurately, to rationalize in the echo chamber of
my own mind, but hey – some explanation behind them.  If you
disagree, that’s fine, I’m quite probably wrong anyway.  But
talking about it beats breaking my hand by punching the wall over and
over, and that’s what I really want to do. (more…)