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White violence destroyed Reconstruction. Black faith persisted.

In part three of our ‘Reconstructed’ series, we explore how faith has guided Black Americans in the face of white oppression, from Reconstruction through today.

About this episode:

On June 17, 2015, a white extremist shot and killed nine Black people in the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina as they gathered for a bible study group.

This wasn’t the first time Mother Emanuel had been attacked. Church historian Elizabeth Alston tells Trymaine Lee, that in the 1820s, white people burned down Mother Emanuel in retaliation over a failed slave rebellion. For years, the congregation was forced to meet in secret. But through all the violence and backlash, the Black congregants relied on their faith, and during Reconstruction, they rebuilt.

Mother Emanuel’s history mirrors the story of Black America. Through the centuries, faith has helped Black people find freedom, community, and strength, even in the face of violence.

In episode three of ‘Reconstructed,’ Into America explores the legacy of faith through Reconstruction. Historian Kidada Williams shares testimonies of the devastating violence and terrorism that white people inflicted upon their Black neighbors. And Spencer Crew, co-curator of the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s exhibit on Reconstruction, explains how faith and the church were vital to the survival of newly freed people.

This tradition of faith in the face of backlash holds true today. Trymaine talks with Bree Newsome Bass, whose incredible protest of scaling a 30-foot pole to take down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol made her an icon of the movement.Bree’s actions led to the permanent removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse. And she tells Trymaine that faith was the foundation of it all.

Editors’ note: This episode was originally published incorrectly naming the location of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing as Montgomery, Alabama. The correct location is Birmingham. The piece has been updated.

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