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Pastor Of Black Church Defaced In Protests: 'An Assault On Our Historical Resolve'

Pastor Rev. William Lamar IV leads his congregation in prayers, during a service at the Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, D.C., in 2014.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Pastor Rev. William Lamar IV leads his congregation in prayers, during a service at the Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, D.C., in 2014.

Black Lives Matters signs and banners on two historic Black churches were destroyed Saturday night during pro-Trump rallies in Washington, D.C.

A video shows people who appeared to be affiliated with the Proud Boys, which is designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, destroying a Black Lives Matter sign in front of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Another video shows men burning a Black Lives Matter sign taken from Asbury United Methodist Church while yelling "f*** antifa."

"It pained me especially to see our name, Asbury, in flames," Ianther Mills, the pastor at Asbury United Methodist, said in a statement. "For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings."

D.C. police are investigating the incidents as possible hate crimes and are seeking suspects.

To these displays of hate and violence, William H. Lamar IV, the pastor at Metropolitan AME Church, took a long view. "We have not been distracted by signs, sounds or fury for nearly two centuries," Lamar tweeted on Sunday. "We worship. We liberate. We serve."

In an interview with NPR's All Things Considered on Monday, Lamar says when he heard the news of the incident Sunday morning as he was preparing to lead worship in a digital service, he felt a confluence of emotions: rage, lament, resolve — even joy.

Metropolitan AME was founded in 1872 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Frederick Douglass worshiped there; Ida B. Wells and Booker T. Washington spoke there. "We tell people is it is indeed the longest continuously held piece of property with unbroken African-American ownership in the District of Columbia," Lamar explains.

He says he's heard that people who carry out destruction like that on Saturday night are often acquainted with the history of a storied institution like Metropolitan AME.

"So what they are doing in the contemporary moment is also an assault on our historical resolve, and our assertion that we belong here, that this space is our space and that we will not leave," Lamar says. "We will not be intimidated by persons who don't celebrate our humanity and our contribution."

He called the attack a distraction from "the kleptocratic capitalism that is robbing the poor," and from "that gospel mandate to provide health care to persons who are succumbing to this virus."

"It's a distraction from the fact that from the time of expanding the franchise, persons have tried through poll taxes, through gerrymandering, through racist vigilante violence to keep people from the polls to keep people from their power," he told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly.

In the wake of the defacement, he says his congregation is doing what it has always done – expressing an "indefatigable desire to make this nation what it claims to be, but never has been."

And what is that? "A space that is welcoming of all, which is a democracy which America has not yet become."

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.