Reconstruction is underway for three Black Louisiana churches that were burnt down in 2019 over the span of a week. Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, which is located in Opelousas, will reopen in just a few months. Greater Union Baptist Church, also in Opelousas, has also made significant progress along with St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre.
Holden Matthews was charged with arson in 2019. He plead guilty a year later and was sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison. The first fire took place on March 26, 2019 at St Mary; Greater Union was destroyed next just four days later. Mount Pleasant was then set ablaze on April 4th. The Seventh District Baptist Association launched a GoFundMe campaign that same month and raised over $2 million.
During the pandemic, churchgoers at St. Mary participated in parking lot church services which were then available to livestream on social media platforms. “We began in a dark moment, but it’s getting brighter and brighter every day,” stated the Rev. Gerald Toussaint of Mount Pleasant to The Daily World. “Now it’s a bright day as we’re looking forward to being back together in the church.”
Attacks on churches is a painful form of violence the Black community has dealt with for decades. They have included everything from the Ku Klux Klan bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963 (which killed 4 young Black girls) to the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston by a white supremacist (which had 9 fatalities). Matthews is currently serving simultaneous 25-year federal and state sentences in federal prison.