CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Two more black churches burned to the ground late Monday night. This time, the fires weren't news reports from a great distance. The ruins smolder in Northeast Mississippi, in and near Kossuth, a small, pleasant, rural town southwest of Corinth in Alcorn County.

Evidence suggests that arsonists did the deed and were ready to burn a third church building a white Church of Christ in Kossuth.

The angered and emotionally shaken congregations of Mount Pleasant and Central Grove Missionary Baptist Churches don't know what to make of the fires. Nobody does. But strong determination built overnight in Kossuth, Corinth, the rest of Alcorn County, and in other parts of Northeast Mississippi to rebuild the churches and solve the arson suspected as the cause of both blazes.

The 109-year-old Mount Pleasant congregation worshipped in a sanctuary built adjacent to the site where Kossuth's black public school once stood. Central Grove, a century old but a smaller congregation in numbers, worshipped in a sanctuary in the countryside between Kossuth and the Suitor's Crossing area on U.S. 72. The fires at the two structures, four miles apart, apparently were set only minutes apart.

Federal, state and local law enforcement officials descended on Kossuth to begin unraveling the mystery. Their presence is both important and indispensable.

It is more important, in terms of human relations, to see and hear the immediate bonding and determination among Alcorn countians of different races, denominations, religions all the tags people usually hang on one another.

It is atrocious to see the burning of churches because it speaks hatred, whether by sick or copycat individuals, or as part of a conspiracy involving racism and other perversions. The story of the burnings should be thoroughly reported.

It is equally important to report and illuminate the response of neighbors and friends who know that all of them collectively have been emotionally and spiritually violated.

Linda Coleman Lambert, a white woman whose family has lived in or near Kossuth for generations, built her home on land adjacent to the Mount Pleasant congregation's tract. Her husband, Steve Lambert, is Kossuth's mayor and a volunteer fireman.

Linda Lambert was hurt and bewildered Tuesday morning.

"When I drove down my driveway today and looked at where the church ought to be, I felt like a knife had been twisted in my heart. Mount Pleasant is as much a part of my life as the church I belong to. The people who go there have been my friends all my life. But let me tell you, we have bonded together here in Alcorn County. We're going to rebuild those churches," she said.

People of conviction and conscience can't stop every heinous crime like burning houses of worship of whatever faith. However, their single-minded efforts can make the crime so unacceptable and appropriate punishment so certain that most people inclined to pour the gasoline or light the torch will think long and hard before they act.

Determined, right-minded people working together make a powerful force for good, and that makes the low-lifes who burn churches acutely uncomfortable. The same right-minded people, working with law enforcement, eventually can put church burners in Kossuth and other places in prison, where they belong, for a long, long time.

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