Black and white Baptists in the nation’s capital this weekend will share communion and prayer walk around the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in a counter-message to a reprise of last year’s Unite the Right white supremacy rally that erupted into violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Members of historically black Nineteenth Street Baptist Church and predominantly white First Baptist Church in Washington will come together for a “United by Love” demonstration coordinated by the New Baptist Covenant, a movement to promote racial justice in Baptist churches started by former President Jimmy Carter.
The Aug. 12 rally coincides with Unite the Right 2, a “white civil rights” rally on the anniversary of violence in Charlottesville last year that killed counter-protestor Heather Heyer. Organized by Jason Kessler, a white supremacist who helped organize the event last year in Charlottesville, this year’s gathering is planned in Lafayette Park in front of the White House on Sunday afternoon.
Nearly two dozen groups, including Black Lives Matter and anti-fascist organizations, are planning a counter-demonstration called Shut It Down D.C.
Founded in 1802, First Baptist is the oldest Protestant church in the nation’s capital. In the beginning black and white Baptists worshipped together as equals, but like many churches of the era, over time the black members were segregated into the gallery.
African-American members organized a separate congregation in 1839, today known as Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, the city’s first and oldest black Baptist congregation.
According to a press release, First Baptist Pastor Julie Pennington-Russell and Nineteenth Street Pastor Darryl Roberts will join New Baptist Covenant Executive Director Hannah McMahan in a brief communion service at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at 2 p.m. Deacons from both churches will serve the bread and cup to all who want to participate, tourists included.
The monument is two-and-a-half miles from Lafayette Park, where about 400 alt-right supporters are expected to arrive at 4:30 p.m.
Last year’s Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville attracted a large number of armed neo-Nazis, white nationalists and other alt-right figures, as well as large crowds of counter-protestors. Planned as a protest of the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, the event turned violent when the two groups started to clash, injuring 30.
As the crowds dispersed, a man linked to white-supremacist groups rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors about a half mile away from the rally site, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19. The suspect, James Alex Fields Jr., was originally charged with second-degree murder. The charge was upped to first-degree murder in December, and in June he was indicted on federal hate crime charges.
A year ago President Trump refused the condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis for the outbreak, declaring “many sides” responsible for Heyer’s death and setting off a firestorm of controversy about race relations in the United States.
The stated purpose of the United by Love rally is “to stand against white supremacy and to commit to working together for racial justice.”
A racially diverse group of church members plan to share communion, sing and engage in a prayer walk around the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial before returning to Nineteenth Street Baptist Church by bus. Members of the two churches will share a light lunch before the rally, provided by the New Baptist Covenant.