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Abundance at Anathoth

Garden of Reconciliation
In the small farming town of Cedar Grove, N.C., an unsolved murder helped whites and blacks imagine a better future

include prominent doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. But no one in the family could remember a white minister in Orange County ever inviting them anywhere.

The Taylor family owns a hundred-acre tract about a mile down the road from Cedar Grove United Methodist Church. To get to Valee Taylor’s house, you pass a little convenience store that sells everything from canned vegetables to minnows and fishing worms. For years, crack dealers had loitered there to sell drugs, sometimes getting high in broad daylight. But a new storekeeper named Bill King, a white man married to an African-American woman, had rented the building and set up shop.

“He was a fair man, but he was a very stern man,” says Taylor. “When he told [drug dealers] to leave, he meant it. He was like a one-man army. It wasn’t a crusade; he’d just say, ‘Take it on down the road,’ and that was it.”

Residents of Cedar Grove started shopping at the store more often. Parents let children ride bikes there to buy sodas and ice cream. And Taylor noticed that Bill King let people who were short on cash buy food on credit.

“He was a man of meager means,” Taylor says, “but he would share what he had with people who weren’t fortunate enough to buy what they needed to survive. And he would allow people credit, even though he had signs all over the store saying, ‘No credit. Don’t even ask.’ If you needed it, he would be there for you.”

Taylor says people in the community admired King’s work ethic, particularly after learning that he suffered from Crohn’s disease.

“He was very sick, but he always wanted to have a convenience store. That was his lifelong dream. And he never missed a day of being at work. When he had to go to the doctor, somebody else would work for him.”

Taylor began dropping by the store on his way home just to chat with King. One afternoon, Taylor was resting at home when the phone rang. A friend in Durham told him that King had been killed at the store.

“I said, ‘What you talking about man? I was just down there earlier. I saw him.’ He told me what channel to turn on the TV, and I saw Bill’s younger daughter talking about how her father had died.”

On the afternoon of June 10, 2004, Bill King was shot in the back of the head as he was closing up shop. Police found the drawer from the cash register outside the store, but they couldn’t find the murder weapon. They couldn’t find any suspects either.

“I personally felt helpless, and I think the community felt helpless,” says Taylor. “You depend on law enforcement to find the killer, but you know they can’t do but so much. They questioned everybody. They did a neighborhood sweep. They traced every car they knew that was at that store, and it just came up a big zero.”

The following week, Taylor remembered the conversation he’d had with Pastor Grace Hackney a few months earlier. Since the murdered shopkeeper was white, Taylor thought it would be a good idea to get a white church involved.

When he showed up at the parish house, Taylor hadn’t seen Hackney since their first meeting. He asked if she remembering telling him to knock on her door if he ever needed anything. She assured him that she did, and invited him inside.

“Valee wanted our church to help raise money for a reward to find the person who killed Bill King,” Hackney says. “He said, ‘You know, a poor shop owner in a rural community, they’re not going to get the same attention that a rich shop owner is going to get if they’re shot in the head. That’s just the facts.’”

Hackney and Taylor spoke for a few hours about how scared people in the community were. After all, the killer was still out there. They decided that offering a reward wasn’t the right response, but they knew the community needed something. So Hackney visited Bill King’s wife, Emma. She didn’t have enough money for a funeral, and she’d already had her husband cremated. They decided to hold a vigil in the store’s parking lot, on the two-week anniversary of the murder.

“I invited her to bring photos,” Hackney says. “She brought his ashes, and we set up a little table with the cross and candles. Then we just waited to see who would