Suburban Chicago Church Stirs Controversy With Trayvon Martin-Inspired Sign
By Chuck Sudo in News on Jul 17, 2013 2:05PM
Photo credit: WLS TV
The pastor of a south suburban church who was hoping to start a dialogue with a sign condemning the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial did that and more thanks to the incendiary language of the message.
The First Baptist Church of University Park placed a message on its LED sign that read, "It is safe to kill BLACK PEOPLE in Amerikkka," which pastor Reginald W. Williams said is a sentiment prevalent in the African American community for years that achieved a stark clarity with the Zimmerman verdict last weekend.
Williams took to his church's Facebook page to place the meaning of the sign in historical context.
In 1949 Rev. Vernon Johns, the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama (and predecessor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) put on the marquis [sic] in front of Dexter Avenue "It is Safe to Kill Negroes In Montgomery". He did this after a Black man was shot by a White man and received no punishment for the crime of murder. He placed this message on his marquis [sic] to call attention to what many Black people felt during that time—that in America the lives of Black people are treated with short worth by the dominant culture, systems, and institutions. It is interesting, yet unfortunate, that 64 years later, many Black people feel the exact same—In America, the lives of Black people are treated with short worth by the dominant culture, systems, and institutions. In no uncertain terms, Black life is undervalued in our society!
It is this feeling that has resonated through African American communities for years, but especially over the past weekend when the verdict came down in the case involving the murder of Trayvon Martin. It is this feeling, and recognition of this reality that informed the placement of the message on the marquis of First Baptist Church of University Park.
Passersby, however, reacted with shock at Williams' spelling of "Amerikkka," fearing the loaded language would serve to exacerbate tensions in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict. Donovan Jones told NBC 5, "The Trayvon Martin case is bad but putting this out there is not going to help. After a meeting with Williams and the church's deacons, the sign was changed to read, "Is it safe to Kill Black People in America?" But Williams said the intent remains.
The message on the sign is not a message of hate. It is a message of awakening and call to action. It is a message not intended to divide, but to cause honest reflection in order to make this country a better place for ALL. The intent is to cause ALL people to look inside themselves and honestly ask that question.
Williams added, "It is interesting the amount of energy that people have put into attacking the church and the Pastor. I wonder how much change would occur if that same energy was employed to fight for the restoration of sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. I wonder how much change would occur if that same energy was employed to fight for common sense gun laws, and stopping laws like 'Stand Your Ground.' ”