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.
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 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.”