It is one of the most horrific symbols of hate in American culture and it was openly used to strike fear in to the hearts of Southern blacks by the Klu Klux Klan for decades.
For a black family in the wealthy, mostly white central Californian town of Arroyo Grande, though, that reality came to life last week, when an 11-foot cross stolen from a nearby church was set ablaze near their home.
A 19-year-old woman in the house looked out of her window and saw the flames, and a town that has not had a reported hate crime in almost a decade was in shock.
"I was horrified," the Rev. Stephanie Raphael, president of the San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association told the Associated Press. "We live in a paradise, and I think the first thought was, this can't really be real."
Unfortunately, hate does still exist in this world. Even though the town in rural San Luis Obispo County is "a region of vast farms, picturesque towns and a state university campus," ugly sentiments can easily lie beneath the surface. Those sentiments can be brought to the surface when a black family does something as simple as move in to a neighborhood of their choosing.
As the settlement patterns of African Americans change and we head out in to suburbs that were once all-white, I won't be surprised if we see more incidents like this.
Some people just can't accept change.
These old symbols of hate seem to endure, passed down from one generation to another. Take the Massachusetts man who pled guilty to burning down a black church, after President Barack Obama was elected.
enforcement needs to make it abundantly clear to the perpetrators of these crimes that their will be swift and harsh consequences for these sort of actions. The man who burned down the church in Springfield, Mass., was sentenced to 9 years in prison. In 2007, a man who burned a cross outside a northern California church to intimidate a clergy member visiting from Rwanda, was sentenced to two years in prison.
Luckily, the response to this hate crime seems to be swift and overwhelming.
The FBI is investigating and a $3,500 reward has been offered. Thirty members of the local clergy community signed a letter to the paper. More than 100 members of the church where the cross was stolen from have signed a card to the family.
"Any kind of hate crime is not a joke, it's not a prank," Raphael said. "It's designed to intimidate and frighten. We live in a beautiful area, but it's only beautiful if every single person feels safe conducting their lives and living here."
Pastor Randy Ouimette of Saint John's Lutheran Church, the church where the cross was stolen from, also said the church feels violated:
"It's such a violation," he said. "You know, the cross originally was an instrument of violence. ... but Christ redeemed it. Through the cross has come forgiveness and peace."
I hope that the family victimized by this terrible act is able to regain a sense of peace in their home.