In 1866, a group of former slaves established what would become the Liberty Baptist Church at the corner of 7th and Oak Street in the town of Evansville, IN. That church—Evansville's first black Baptist congregation—was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and has, for more than 150 years, been a mainstay of the local community.
This year, members of Liberty Baptist were enjoying the church's seventh annual Thanksgiving dinner when a neighbor reportedly called Reverend Todd Robertson to tell him that someone had vandalized the church's back door and van with violent, racist threats: "Kill all koons" on the building and "Koons inside" on the vehicle.
"I’ve been the pastor here for 17 years and we’ve never had anything like this,” Robertson told the Evansville Courier and Press. “I know there seems to be a rise across the country of ill will toward certain groups of people. But we keep preaching, we will overcome evil with good."
In fact, the graffiti found on Thanksgiving was the second such incident to occur at Liberty Baptist this fall. According to the Washington Post, similar messages had been found chalked onto the sidewalk outside the church several weeks earlier, only to be washed away quickly by congregation members, who kept it a secret from Rev. Robertson.
Speaking with the Courier and Press, Evansville Police Sargent Jason Cullum confirmed the vandalism, and said no other churches in the area had been targeted. Local NBC affiliate WAVE reported that a report had been filed with law enforcement, and according to the Post, police spent much of Thanksgiving weekend canvassing the neighborhood for leads.
On Facebook, well-wishers and supporters have begun sharing messages of hope and positivity with Liberty Baptist.
"I wanted to send prayers to your church," one user wrote. "It is difficult to understand the hate and fear that some people still cling to, but it is my belief that love will triumph."
For Rev. Robinson, this surfacing of racism—and the outpouring of support it has prompted—represents an opportunity for his community.
"People ought to be aware that there are some people in our area who have this mentality,” Robertson explained to the Courier and Press. “Hiding it doesn’t heal it. You have to face it in order to heal it. There is evil out there, but we want to have it overcome with good, and glorify the Lord."