If Donald Trump said African-Americans are “living in hell” in American cities at a presidential debate Monday night, then surely the flames must have been licking the city of Rock Hill on Tuesday – just hours after Trump said it.
Of more than 71,000 people in the city at least 38 percent are black – 27,000-plus.
On Saluda Street, home to so many black businesses and homes, Tim Nelson was at work at his auto body shop. It is hot work, but he just shook his head at any notion that his life or place is hell. He had been up half the night pulling a car out of a ditch with his tow truck, then Tuesday he had to get up before dawn to go to work.
Down Heckle Boulevard to Crawford Road, hell was sought – but all to be found was a cross at the intersection. The cross was put up after a woman died in a crash there earlier this month. The accused driver who smashed into her was black, a convicted felon just out of prison. He now faces more charges that could keep him in prison forever.
Maybe that’s what Trump was talking about, crime.
It made no difference to Sonny Feely. A retired guy, black, who worked all his life after growing up in segregation, Feely saw the crash site two weeks ago and stopped and built the cross. The cross still stands. He never met the lady who died. He had no idea what she looked like, either. He was told she was white.
“Doesn’t make a difference,” Feely said. “I just felt that the spot needed to be marked, so that people would know that there are those of us out here who care that she is remembered.”
Feely was asked if he watched Trump on Monday night and heard about a comment that he was living in hell.
“No,” Feely said. “I put the election in God’s hands.”
On Main Street you go past Adams Chapel AME Church where Dr. Jacques Days, a physician, is the pastor. Days is also the president of the Rock Hill NAACP. Days said black people remain committed to the nation as a whole and put it this way about the African-Americans “living in hell” in inner cities: “That says more about Mr. Trump than it says about us.”
The next place to check was the historic Mount Prospect Baptist Church right smack in the middle of a neighborhood west of downtown. The church is so entrenched in Rock Hill it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is also made up of people who are black.
The outbuilding where the weekly food pantry served 134 families of all colors just this past weekend was closed, and the church was locked, too. Everybody must have been packing to get out of the fires.
No, the volunteers from the church were a few blocks away, ladling out food to the needy. The fourth Tuesday of every month is Mount Prospect’s day at the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen, on Crawford Road.
On one end of the line serving food stood Shelma Scales. She had brought in more chicken from the kitchen. She was asked if she was living in hell.
“I live in Waterford,” Scales said of her Rock Hill neighborhood, not missing a beat from her work.
The Rev. William Ferguson, the Mount Prospect pastor, was nearby cutting chicken. He said he was not pleased by Trump’s remark. But what he was doing was far more important than focus groups or polling that the candidates live by.
“I live in Tega Cay,” Ferguson said of the living comment from Trump.
Hell, Ferguson said, was nowhere to be found Tuesday where the black hands of his church gave out hope and a meal to people of all colors.
Right down the line of servers the ladies shook their heads at any notion that their lives and their homes and their families and their service resembled any comment to be made by a candidate. Evelyn Miller, Mattie Beatty, Mary Ann Staten, Alice Agurs and Phebe Joseph stood shoulder to shoulder, all of them, serving all who arrived.
“Maybe he just doesn’t know black people,” said Staten, a volunteer.
A lady was there having lunch named Katrina Jones. She is 46 years old. She watched the debate, she heard the comment about living in hell. She described herself as two things: Black, and ready to vote.
“Our voices, our votes, make a difference in democracy,” Jones said. “He said we are living in hell? What is it supposed to be like if he gets in office. Or for immigrants?”
Saturday at Mount Prospect church, while the food was given out, the church asked York County voter registration officials to come and take pictures for new voter registration cards that are acceptable identification for the November election. Church volunteer Staten, who led the effort, said 56 people were newly registered with pictures.
She was asked who those people will vote for – Trump or Hillary Clinton.
“No idea,” Staten said. “We just want them to vote.”
Then she excused herself, because there were people to serve in a city with its share of problems. The poor and the needy are present – as well as those who say that heaven is close by helping them along the way.