Jimmie Garland, a state vice president of the NAACP, right, speaks at Walnut Grove Missionary Baptist Church where juvenile delinquents desecrated the church. From left are Robert Peay, Ronnie Martin and Mike Fitzhugh. Photos by Clint Confehr

By Clint Confehr

MURFREESBORO, TN — What hurts us makes us stronger is one realization among nearly 45 people gathered Saturday to talk about juvenile delinquents’ desecration of Walnut Grove Missionary Baptist Church.

Church contributions are up since “KKK” and “We are watching you” were scrawled Sept. 18 in the predominantly African American Church, the Rev. Richard Sibert said with Clarksville NAACP President Jimmie Garland, a vice president of the association’s Tennessee conference.

Rutherford County Sheriff Mike Fitzhugh said, “These were juveniles. I’m not going to make it anything more than it is. What their motive is may come out in court. I don’t think they’re involved in the klan.

“We’ve got a lot of ‘wannabes,’” Fitzhugh said, hoping white nationalists “won’t be back.” They marched Oct. 28, 2017 in Shelbyville, but didn’t use a Murfreesboro public assembly permit to rally around the courthouse. Law enforcement agencies “speak of these things constantly.”

Advocating collaboration, Garland said, “I was pleased they chose not to come” to Murfreesboro. The NAACP Conference leader thanked the sheriff for his cooperation. “Without unity, there’s no strength,” Garland said.

The 90-minute meeting in the church — a white robe was found there — included a question and answer period. Also attending was County Commissioner Chantho Sourinho. He fled Communist Laos after the 1975 fall of Vietnam and Lao’s monarchy.

Noting family chain immigration from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Sourinho said that in the 1980s, “Someone called his home to say “‘Go home.’

“My heart was shaking,” he said. Thousands of people of Laotians have become American citizens.

Another realization Saturday may be that without God, basic belief systems of society are jeopardized. Religion, prayer and character were repeated topics of discussion.

Rutherforc County Commissioner Chantho Sourinho, center, listens to panel discussion in Walnut Grove Missionary Baptist Church which was desecrated with racist scowls Sept. 18. Walnut Grove associate pastor Goldy Wade is in the background.

Sourinho wasn’t a panelist Oct. 13, but Commissioner Robert Peay was. “What’s important is your safety,” said Peay, a volunteer firefighter. Firefighters make plans on how to deal with things. Murfreesboro’s Islamic Center has security cameras and alarms. County commissioners funded more deputies, Peay said, recommending volunteers talk to political science classes about democracy.

Fitzhugh said church burglaries are increasing. Garland said, “Black churches are the ones that are normally targeted. We’re the ones who have to go back and make it whole.”

After the crimes, Murfreesboro Councilman Ronnie Martin visited Walnut Grove. From his panel seat Saturday, he said he’s impressed that church members want to work with the delinquents who should be told the pain they caused.

“Sometimes,” the sheriff said, “it’s just them doing something stupid. I wish we could pass

The Rev. Richard Sibert, pastor of Walnut Grove Missionary Baptist Church, prayed with one of four juvenile delinquents who desecrated the church with racist scrawls.
Photo by Clint Confehr

a law against stupid.” Vandalizing churches “is a broad statement against God,” he said.

Fitzhugh agrees with Peay; prayer is an answer. The sheriff added sometimes the school day is the best part of a student’s life; that teachers and school resource officers are the only role models for children.

Garland, an associate minister at True Vine Worldwide Gospel Church, recalled prayer’s removal from schools in the 1950s. He’s on the Clarksville-Montgomery County school board.

Young people should be taught that “choice brings consequences,” Garland said. “They thought they were doing something that would make their people proud.”

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...