I’m not remotely religious and I will take crap from some of my atheist/agnostic/humanist friends for this. But I shed a tear this morning for a church I never once in my life set foot in, that nobody I know (that I’m sure of) attends as a parishioner. Queen of Angels Parish church, now stripped of its pews, stained glass windows and even the votive candle holder, will be torn down soon.
I knew as soon as I saw the headline that if I dove down into the prose I would find some connection to Newark’s elders and the civil rights movement. I had to dive pretty far down to find this:
Martin Luther King Jr. visited and meetings for his Poor People’s Campaign were held at the church. When he was killed, 25,000 people walked through the Central Ward calling for racial harmony.
Queen of Angels helped organize the march.
I grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that’s a lot like much of Newark; African American and Hispanic majority. Both my parents were civil rights and anti-poverty activists and I was brought up in it. And though I practice no religion, black churches to me were always where the meetings were. The civil rights movement was never, for me anyway, only about MLK, though I wouldn’t disrespect him for a moment. It was also about Malcolm and W.E.B. Du Bois and Medgar. The Little Rock Nine and the 4 little girls. And Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner. But mostly it was about the people who met in the churches to plan and organize. The neighborhood people. I knew little ladies who wouldn’t dream of going to church without a hat who marched down the main street in white Canarsie with little black and white kids looking to integrate schools, and got glass bottles thrown at them by other ladies safe on their porches. And kept marching. And young men and women who got on a bus to Mississippi when they heard somebody killed 3 civil rights workers trying to register people to vote.
That’s what I think of when I see a place of worship that black people grew up in get knocked down in a city. Dig down deep enough in most of them and you find a little civil rights history. Salvation in those walls. All kinds.