Cousin is the pastor at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church. Founded in 1864, it is the oldest historically Black church in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area.
What does it mean to be the pastor of such a historically important Black church?
Most of our movements of change have emanated from the church. Only one of late has not: the Black Lives Matter movement. I commend those young people for bringing to the forefront the state of Black America. You have those that are trying to tear it down and say it’s Marxist, socialist, but we follow one of the biggest socialists—Jesus Christ. We must speak on those things that persons may not wish to hear. St. Paul has been instrumental in so many things around here—just a place where we were able to know we are someone because we’re God’s child. Black worship is a time to say, “I know that there’s a better way. I ain’t afraid of Hell ‘cause I’m catching Hell on Earth.”
What are the biggest issues facing the Triangle’s Black communities?
How do you kill a community? Put a highway right through it. With Hayti, I saw them put in 147, as a child. I watched them plow through houses, widen Fayetteville Street. Now you go down Pettigrew. I don’t even recognize it anymore. There was a radio station, barbershops, even a movie theater. And with gentrification in Chapel Hill, why is that building right there in the middle of what was the Black community? I remember when I was younger I could stand on that porch and see onto Rosemary. I could wave at a preacher over at St. Joseph.
What can be done, if anything, to fix policing?
We had a conversation with Chief Blue, and Binkley Baptist—God bless them—every Saturday, they do their social justice and have signs up, talking about “Black Lives Matter.” And there was a police officer that saw the “Black Lives Matter” sign and gave a thumbs down. The chief said he’s still trying to find out which officer it was. When you see the police, you feel safe. But, I’m 58 years old, educated. When I see the police, I get kind of nervous. They’ve dissected everything we have without any consequences. Where are all the Black folk? I ask myself all the time. Where are my people? We’re scattered.
Would you say the town and the University’s attempts to support racial justice are performative?
It’s nice to make statements, but show me. Recently, the whole thing with denying tenure. This woman comes in with credentials out the wazoo. But there’s details you’ve got in terms of those back rooms. I used to think as a child, Duke was really racist. Me and my father talked “Duke, Private School—Racist. UNC— liberal.” No. It’s some of those hushed tones. Those conversations. I think it would be helpful if the school would respect the history. Make an attempt. Don’t make something that’s perfunctory, just going through the motions.
What does Juneteenth mean to your community, and what do you think of more mainstream celebrations of this day?
It’s not just another party. I just hope with Juneteenth we understand the true significance of that date and honor those persons. It’s festive. And not an educational moment. To a child, it’s Juneteenth. It’s like the fair. No! Revere that day.
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