Despite recent vandalizations of banners with phrases like "BLM" and "Vote," a local church said it will continue to hold weekly vigils to remember and honor victims of police brutality.
Since late May, following the death of George Floyd, Binkley Baptist Church has held antiracist vigils on Fridays from 5 to 6 p.m. The church was joined by University Baptist Church in July, , after a white man was charged with assault for punching a 19-year-old Black woman at a demonstration at Binkley Baptist Church. This prompted an outpouring of solidarity from community members.
“We were honoring the people who were killed,” Richard Clifford, who helps organize the demonstrations, said. “We are not protesting any one thing in particular, except for the overall treatment of people.”
University Baptist Church began holding its own weekly vigils on the corner of Franklin and Columbia streets.
“This has been something in the past, churches sometimes stay silent on issues like this,” Allison Allaire-James, director of children's ministries at University Baptist Church, said. “This is a visual display to say, ‘Here’s where we stand.’ We want our Black brothers and sisters to know that they live in a town where they are loved.”
Allaire-James said participation has ranged from four to 20 people, church members and non-members alike.
Binkley’s demonstrations draw about 50 people per week, although Clifford said participation spiked to nearly 200 following the assault. Binkley’s crowd represents a range of age and experience, from preschoolers to seniors in their late 80s.
Despite significant community support, three banners at Binkley Baptist Church were recently vandalized.
Two banners with messages "BLM" and "Vote" were set on fire at night on Oct. 30. A third rainbow-colored banner with various slogans, such as "Love is Love," sustained less damage and was discovered the following morning.
Senior Pastor Marcus McFaul said in a statement that the church will continue to stand in solidarity with those who have experienced injustice.
“We will not be deterred or intimidated by anyone who senselessly sets fire to messages of justice and love,” McFaul said in the statement.
In response to the vandalizations, the church added another banner, which reads “You can burn our signs but you can’t burn our resolve.”
Clifford, who joined the congregation shortly after he moved to Chapel Hill in 1970, said this is not the first time Binkley Baptist Church has been targeted for its social activism. The church was formed in 1958 as one of the few integrated congregations in Chapel Hill. In 1992, it was ousted from the Southern Baptist Convention for taking steps to license a gay minister.
"When my wife and I came (to Chapel Hill), the story we tell is that the first day we truly deeply went to church was after service on Sunday when we walked down Franklin Street to First Baptist Church … in support of integrated facilities in Chapel Hill," he said.
As winter approaches and dusk comes earlier, Binkley Baptist Church has moved future demonstrations to Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Clifford said the church plans to hold vigils indefinitely, as it is important to continue to demonstrate. He also said Binkley Baptist Church’s Humanitarian Crisis Response workgroup is working on future events for immigrant and refugee rights, as well as LGBTQ rights.
“These vigils have been one of the most moving things of my life,” Clifford said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.