A crowdfunding campaign to raise $1.8 million to rebuild three historically black Baptist churches in a Louisiana parish hit by arson within two weeks surpassed its goal in seven days, aided – apparently – by non-stop images of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in France.
As of Thursday morning more than 35,000 people donated $1.9 million to a GoFundMe campaign launched April 10 by the Seventh District Baptist Association, a 149-year-old organization that includes three churches torched between March 26 and April 4 near Opelousas, Louisiana, a small city about 60 miles west of the state capital Baton Rouge.
By the afternoon of April 16, according to the Dow Jones & Co. website MarketWatch, the campaign had raised around $300,000. Then images a major fire at the 800-year Paris landmark began rolling, and celebrities including former New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, journalist Yashar Ali and former First Lady Hillary Clinton took to social media to encourage the public to channel some of their compassion toward African-Americans already grieving over destroyed houses of worship.
“As we hold Paris in our thoughts today, let’s also send some love to our neighbors in Louisiana,” Clinton tweeted April 16. “Three historically black churches have burned in recent weeks, charring buildings and scattering communities. If you can, contribute to rebuilding funds.”
The 54-church Seventh District Baptist Association said donations would be split evenly among St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Louisiana, and Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, both in Opelousas, to rebuild their sanctuaries and replace furnishings such as pews, sound systems and musical instruments.
Holden Matthews, 21, the man suspected of setting the fires, faces hate crime charges added April 15 to the original charges of simple arson on religious buildings that prompted his arrest April 10. The son of a sheriff’s deputy, Matthews pleaded not guilty on Monday. He is being held without bond in the St. Landry Parish jail and is scheduled to stand trial in September.