After Murder and Church Burnings: Organize the South! Black Lives Matter!

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Bree Newsome taking down the confederate flag at the South Carolina state capitol.

On June 17th, Dylann Roof, a 21 year old white man, entered Mother Emanuel AME Church, a pivotal institution in the Black liberation struggle in Charleston, South Carolina. He joined the evening’s prayer meeting. An hour later he took out a gun and murdered nine of the parishioners, intentionally sparing woman’s life so she could tell the tale. Radicalized by the Council of Conservative Citizens, an online white nationalist organization, Roof’s online manifesto declares that his intention was to incite a race war.

In the three weeks since, over 20,000 people have marched in South Carolina in solidarity with the victims’ families, demanding the removal of the confederate flag from the state capitol. Eight Black churches were burned down in 10 days. Bree Newsome from Charlotte, NC, where one of those churches burned, made national news – scaling the pole at the SC state capitol and taking the flag down. Dozens of confederate statues across the US have been tagged with the phrase #BlackLivesMatter, the slogan of the dynamic movement that’s exploded across the US in response to the epidemic of racist police murders. Republican lawmakers are battling it out in legislative sessions, culminating in a decision to remove the flag from the South Carolina State House which was carried out on July 10. Nonetheless the Klan has announced a pro-Confederate flag rally in Columbia, SC next Saturday, and a weeklong training institute the following week in Arkansas on how to grow the white nationalist movement.

This tremendous flurry, including a visible resurgence of Klan activity, raises a number of important questions about how we analyze and respond in this moment:

  • Is the struggle over the confederate flag solely symbolic? Or does it provide a context to catalyze broader structural reforms and continued militant action?
  • Does this signal the beginning of an upsurge of Klan activity or the last gasps of a dying movement?
  • What are the different roles we can play from where we’re positioned in the broader movement (i.e. labor unions, faith institutions, non-profits, white and Black activists, queer folks of color)?

It will take some time to unpack these questions and the lessons of this moment. In the meantime however here are some initial thoughts on approach:

First, this is a moment for those of us on the left to highlight the connections between white vigilante violence, the radical right, and the ruling class. This is not news to us, but right now we have a platform to reach a mass audience. Recent articles have been published by The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Nation detailing links between white supremacist groups and the GOP. Now is the time to force prominent figures on the Right to take a position – isolating the most radical elements and creating a split between moderates and their traditional social base.

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There’s a debate raging within the Republican Party on how to respond to the rapidly changing demographics of this country, particularly across the South. Moderates want to rebrand the party to appeal to a younger, more urban social base, including gay and Latino communities. The more radically conservative elements rely on right-wing populist fervor and changing the rules of democratic participation, redrawing political districts and constructing legislative barriers to participation.

We need to exploit that fissure. The battle lines are drawn and the moment is ripe to lift the veil on white supremacy’s role in holding together a ruling class coalition.

Finally, and most importantly, we must grow our movement by winning over another layer of fighters to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. For the tens of thousands ready to march against the confederate flag as a symbol of hate, we need to make plain that church burnings and Klan rallies are but one manifestation of the current reality of racist violence. The rise of the police state, dismantling the social safety net, privatizing the public sector, attacking union power, defunding and re-segregating our public schools – these are all examples of the structural manifestations of white supremacy.

Several calls to action have been raised. In addition to our organizational support for the upcoming Movement for Black Lives Convening, Freedom Road Socialist Organization endorses the Southern-led National Call to Action beginning on July 12th with Black Lives Matter Sunday and continuing throughout the Week of Righteous Resistance – #thisisWORR.

Below is a description of the call. Please join us!


As news finally echoed across the country about the eight church burnings two weeks after the murder of 9 Black people in Charleston SC, Nia Wilson of SpiritHouse in Durham, NC called for Southern-led action. Project South, TOPS, and the anchors of the Southern Movement Assembly align with her.

On July 12, as part of a Southern Call to Action, assemble as a circle of 9 or more to pray, to study this political moment, and to work together towards liberation. In Sunday school classes, after-service fellowship spaces, in public spaces where you live, or in your home – gather 9 or more in the spirit of the lives gathered in Bible Study at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston SC on June 17, 2015. 

Now is the time to actively imagine what we want and deserve, and work for more.  – Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Project South – Chattanooga TN     

Let us come together in faith and in force. Not just to resist racist attacks but to exercise our collective power. – Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, The Ordinary Peoples Society – Dothan AL

I believe in our magic.  – Nia Wilson, SpiritHouse – Durham NC

Other actions you can initiate for the Black Lives Matter Sunday:

  • Ask local pastors to allow someone currently involved in the Movement for Black Lives to speak/preach to the church’s congregation on the 12th.
  • Co-host an evening conversation on what this political moment means to Black folks and the churches role and responsibilities in the Black Liberation Movement.
  • If you are a pastor or church leader, call a meeting to discuss the role of clergy of conscience at this time. How can churches come together and find our common ground not splinter along our differences?

Use this hash tags in your organizing around these actions:

  • #BLMSunday

Groups across the country are heeding the call – PICO’s Live Free Campaign has called for a Week of Righteous Resistance (#thisisWORR).

Please commit to participate and show our collective power across the South by sending short descriptions and photos of your action to mailto:spi@projectsouth.organd check out southtosouth.org for more information about the Southern Movement Assembly.


Additional resources and ways to plug in:

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