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After Notre Dame fire, a GoFundMe ensured black churches burned in Louisiana got $1 million, too

Firefighters and fire investigators respond to a fire at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on April 4 in Opelousas, La. (Leslie Westbrook/The Advocate/AP)

On Sunday, a fundraiser to help three black churches rebuild from arson had raised just below $50,000.

By Wednesday morning, the total had skyrocketed to $1 million.

After the world watched in anguish as the famed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris caught fire Monday, politicians, activists, celebrities and journalists rallied on social media Tuesday to spread word of the GoFundMe campaign for three much smaller houses of worship.

In late March and early April, fires consumed St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church within 10 days in St. Landry Parish, La. Longtime pillars of the African American community were reduced to smoldering walls and piles of rubble. Authorities have accused Holden Matthews, 21, of setting the fires, and this week, prosecutors charged him with hate crimes.

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As France received a wave of international sympathy and almost $1 billion in donations and pledges by Wednesday as its leaders vowed to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral, some wanted to ensure that the St. Landry churches were not forgotten.

Journalist Yashar Ali asked his Twitter followers on Tuesday to match his donation to the GoFundMe campaign or contribute their own amount.

He was soon joined by some of Twitter’s most influential users, and they collectively raised hundreds of thousands of dollars within a few hours. Some donors gave $10 or $15, while other prominent figures such as Megyn Kelly, Aileen Getty and Jake Tapper contributed $1,000 or more.

The largest donation came from philanthropist Robert F. Smith, who donated $50,000, according to Ali.

The GoFundMe page had been set up by the Seventh District Baptist Association last week. The association’s president, Freddie Jack, told the New York Times that he had initially set a goal of $600,000 but later tripled it to $1.8 million.

“St. Mary and Greater Union, all you see is charcoal. It’s a total, complete loss at all three sites,” he said. “They have a long road ahead of them. They’re a long way from full recovery, but the generosity of the people seems to be speaking volumes.”

In addition to the GoFundMe, a local car dealer created an account with IberiaBank and pledged to match donations into the fund up to $50,000, the Daily Advertiser reported. The bank also pledged $6,000 of its own.

Former New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson has helped publicize the online fundraiser for several days.

“It is imperative,” Watson tweeted, “that we show this community and the entire country that these types of acts do not represent who we are.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) added that “nobody should ever fear for safety in their house of worship” at a press conference April 11. (Video: Reuters)

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