Sunday, November 27, 2022

‘Black people are used to this’: Historic church in Williamsburg responds to protests

Black Lives Matter protest in Williamsburg, Sunday, May 31, 2020 (WYDaily/Courtesy of Joseph Miller)
Black Lives Matter protest in Williamsburg, Sunday, May 31, 2020 (WYDaily/Courtesy of Joseph Miller)

Pain. Frustration. Unrelenting search for justice.

Ah, the cries in cities all across the nation awakened by the death of a black man in Minneapolis. Movements spurred by the incident May 25 appeared to be felt across the racial divide.

“No justice. No peace….I can’t breathe,” echoes in cities large and small.

“Say his name,” chants one protester.

“George Floyd,” the crowd answers, fists raised in the air.

The historic Triangle is no exception, and various organizations in the area are communicating to their response to the protests to the public.

One such organization is The Historic First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, one of the nation’s oldest black congregation.

“People have to understand, black people are used to this, it’s been going on for 400 years,” said Rev. Reginald F. Davis of the The Historic First Baptist Church in Williamsburg. “But when something like this happens, it causes outrage. We ask leaders, what do you do with the pent-up frustration of a people? Where do you direct this energy in the middle of injustice?”

The church is a historically black congregation that was first organized in 1776 at a time when it was unlawful for African-Americans to assemble. Free blacks and slaves secretly founded the church with the help of a white townsman who offered his carriage house for black people to gather so long as it was for religious purposes.

While Davis said he isn’t aware of anyone in the congregation participating in the protests, he knows people have been deeply impacted.

“I don’t think there’s any place in America where black people live that they have not felt the sting of racism and discrimination,” Davis said. “So I’m sure it’s here, it’s in every community.”

While the protests remind Davis of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, he said there’s a different kind of hope to change the systemic procedures in law enforcement that don’t protect against racial discrimination.

“It comes to a point where a nation has to decide whether or not we are going to treat people equally under the law in these situations of outrage and disruption,” Davis said. “If we don’t want this to continue, we have to root out this racism that’s still apparent.”

After a protest in Williamsburg on Sunday that drew hundreds of people, Davis said he wants to continue to spread the message of hope and change to the community. While there are no plans set in stone, he said local faith communities are in talks about protests and demonstrations in the near future.

“It’s important for the nation to know, for the people to know in this community, that we in the faith community stand for justice,” he said. “How can we not when that’s what God calls for?”

He said he hopes the situation will continue to improve as people across the country demand action. 

“We have to go further than making a statement, we have to make sure the policies are changed,” he said. “It’s a message of hope, to me. To see the majority of people see this as an injustice that cannot be part of our country going forward…the only way to do that is to have people from across racial lines come together.”

While the church supports the demonstrations, they don’t support the violence and looting that has occurred in other locations, Davis said.

So what do businesses in the Historic Triangle think about the violent protests and do they have pleas to those who choose to protest outside their doors?

“We actually haven’t really had much interruption with the protesters,” said Monique Sowell, manager at Aroma’s Coffeehouse, Bakery and Café, referring to the recent protest at the Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse. “From my personal standpoint, I support their right to free speech and everything––from the company standpoint, as long as it’s peaceful, that’s my main concern.”

She noted as long as everyone is safe and the protest is not blocking traffic, she does not have a problem with it.

“Again, peaceful protest is always, in my mind, the best way,” Sowell said.

The owner agrees with her, telling her the rallies are okay as long as they’re peaceful,Sowell said.

WYDaily contacted several businesses in the Historic Triangle. Some declined to comment.

Debi Schaefer, executive director for the Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association, declined to comment on behalf of its members and Ralph Youngs, president of the Merchants Square Association was not immediately available for comment.

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Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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