Columbia leaders, community band together in response to hate flyer

On the heels of hate flyers placed on the marquees of three Black churches in Columbia, a crowd of community, church and elected leaders gathered at Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, showing solidarity in prayer and unity.

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The church, steeped in history, is nestled on East 8th Street in downtown Columbia, which was once a bustling hub of Black businesses in the 1930s. Some historians have argued that actions that took place on the street in 1946 served as the catalyst of the civil rights movement, when the Tennessee State Troopers ransacked the neighborhood as Black residents defended themselves. The altercation arose following a fight between a white business owner and Black Naval officer, which led to a seminal federal court case and a visit by Thurgood Marshall.

The church’s longtime pastor Kenny Anderson set the tone of the gathering, preaching that the flyer with racially rhetoric aimed at three Black churches in Columbia “brought us together.”

“What a wonderful gathering for the wrong cause. What the enemy uses for evil, God will use for good,” Anderson said to the crowd of over 100 crammed into the church annex, including Columbia Police Chief Jeremy Alsup and officers, Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder, Maury County Mayor Sheila Butt, and a half dozen pastors.

Kenny Anderson, Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church Pastor, addresses the crowd gathered at the church annex in response to a hate flyer left on three church marquees on Sunday. The Columbia Police Department is investigating the racially-charged

Flyer causes outrage, police investigation

Earlier this week, the Columbia Police Department asked for the community’s help in identifying a suspect involved in leaving flyers at three predominantly Black churches in Columbia. The flyer references the “Old Glory Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” and includes an email address for an unnamed individual. The group seems to have a website and is referenced in Twitter posts that include disturbing images of burning crosses and robed individuals. The three churches, which received the flyer include Faith United Missionary Baptist Church and Bethel Chapel AME Church in addition to Calvary, all located in the same neighborhood.

The CPD posted a video on Facebook, showing a male individual placing an additional flyer on the Muletown Pizza food truck parked off of James Campbell Boulevard.

Anderson, a native of Columbia, said a church-goer first informed him of the flyer stuck to the church marquee on Sunday, which he saw upon entering the church parking lot.

“I called the police. I talked to [an officer]. He was so kind. He was upset himself. I was upset. I was mad,” he told the Daily Herald.

Columbia Police Chief Jeremy Alsup (right) and Pastor Kenny Anderson of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Columbia shake hands as Alsup approaches the podium to address a crowd of over 100 in the church annex on July 12, 2023 in Columbia, Tenn.

Police ‘working tirelessly’

The CPD is “close” to identifying a suspect, according to Alsup, who shared an update with the crowd.

“The officers of the CPD are the best in the business,” Alsup said. “They have been working tirelessly. All I can say in this active investigation is that we are close. Hate rhetoric, or anything of this nature, these flyers, they have no business in this community or any community.”

“Your Columbia Police Department will do their best to make sure anything like this … to keep it from ever coming back.”

The crowd applauded Alsup’s comments.

“This community amazes me constantly,” said Alsup, who has served the police department for over 25 years. “I knew as soon as this act of hate occurred that this would be how this community reacts.”

Alsup is part of a group called Stand Together, which formed in 2015 to build race relations, following the Charleston church shooting. Led by local pastors Russ Adcox and Trent Ogilvie, the group gathers at the police station quarterly and has led to the formation of the Columbia Peace and Justice Initiative.

Community response

What began as a response to words of hate turned into a community faith service, processing feelings of outrage and hurt as well as hope.

Rev. Tanya Mason of Bethel Chapel AME Church located on South Glade Street in the same vicinity as Calvary addressed the crowd in response to the flyer.

She calls her two and a half years in Columbia “a blessing” with friendly people.

“Most people I have encountered desire a community of healing, unity and solidarity,” Mason said. “However on Sunday July 9, my congregation was met with a flyer that echoed the terroristic message of the past and ever present space of evil and darkness.

“I say to those today who think that our future is in their hands that they must not know the resilience of the people and African American Methodist Episcopal Church.”

Mason said she is “outraged” that sexism and racism still exist in 2023 and that Black men and women are profiled due to their color.

“I am outraged as clergy who preaches the message ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’ yet I must explain to children and adults that the very neighborhood they live in and the community they love doesn’t love them back,” she said.

Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder said after trying to find the right words to prepare, he found none. The only anecdote Molder shared was a “heavy sigh” by Anderson during a previous phone conversation.

“I think that sometimes in order to heal, you first have to understand the hurt,” Molder said. “In that sigh, I felt like I could feel the pain that he was feeling.”

After Molder said he is confident the perpetrator will be “prosecuted vigorously,” he quoted words that Gov. Bill Lee shared during the pandemic.

“In the worst of times, the best of humanity shines,” he said.

Community pastors including Anderson closed the gathering with prayer.

“Hate will never win,” Anderson said. “God did this. When you are showing some hate toward some folk that thrives to show love, and you tell God about it — if we have a heart like God, you are just going to show up. I just thank God for all of you showing up.

“God is on our side today.”

CPD will post updates on the case on Facebook.

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Originally Appeared Here

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