Racial Slur Defaces African American Church

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Something troublesome awaited the members of a historic African American congregation on Sunday as they arrived at their McLean church for services.

The First Baptist Church of Chesterbrook had been defaced by a racial epithet.

The inflammatory word was spray-painted in large block letters next to the church's front door, Fairfax County police said in a news release.

"It was a very upsetting time," said Andre Johnson, a longtime member of the church, which is on Kirby Road near Old Dominion Drive. Members were concerned, Johnson said, as you "can very well expect them to be when they walk up to the church and see that on the front."

"It was very disturbing to the membership" and "to me," said James R. King, chairman of the board of deacons at the church, which traces its history to the Civil War era, when the neighborhood was known as Lincolnville.

Services, which had been scheduled for 10 a.m., started about 45 minutes late, King said, so police could check the building and collect evidence.

During the service, King said he and the church's pastor, the Rev. Todd Brown, said from the pulpit that it was not so much the word itself that had been so alarming but the place it appeared.

"That you would deface a house of worship . . . shocked us more than anything," King said.

Painting of the epithet on the church was thought to be unprecedented, although King said a cross had been burned in front of the church about 30 years ago.

King said neighbors had always been supportive, and he expressed doubt that any had been involved. "We have a great relationship," he said. "It's a sick person who did that, [and] not an indication of what the community around us is like."

Neighborhood residents interviewed last night expressed shock. A neighbor who had jogged past the church Sunday morning later came back to attend the service as a show of support, a church member said.

Police said graffiti were also found at nearby Chesterbrook Elementary School. They said they think the graffiti were made by the same person. The case is under investigation.

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