Justice

The Number of Black Churches Burning After Charleston Will Disturb You

June 28th 2015

By:
Nicole Charky

Seven Black churches have burned across the U.S. this month since an avowed white supremacist walked into a historic Black church and sat with a prayer group of nine churchgoers before killing them in Charleston, South Carolina.

On Saturday, a fire destroyed College Heights Baptist Church in Elyria, Ohio. Firefighters arrived shortly after 7 a.m. and found the church fully engulfed in flames. No one was injured, Derrell Deer, the pastor of the church, told local news reporters, but what caused the fire is still under investigation.

This latest fire is one in a string of blazes set on predominantly Black churches in the U.S. Some of these fires have been deemed arson and some are under investigation as possible hate crimes. 

In North Carolina, investigators determined that a fire on June 24 at a primarily Black congregation called the Briar Creek Road Baptist Church was arson, and are asking people for any information that could help solve the case. At about the same time, a fire burned a tiny church beyond repair miles away in Macon, Georgia-- the God's Power Church of Christ. Associate pastor Jeanette Dudley got the call shortly after 5 a.m. on June 24. When the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco arrived, they determined that this was arson. Investigators do not yet know if it is a hate crime.

Two other predominantly Black churches had possible arson attacks this past week, however the fire at Glover Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina on June 26 was not its first, according to Rev. Bobby Jones. He told the Augusta Chronicle that the church's previous building was lost in suspected arson.

The other possible arson happened on June 22 at College Hill Seventh Day Adventist in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee investigators believe it was an act of vandalism and are not investigating the fire as a hate crime. Apparently at that fire, bales of hay and bags of dirt were left at the church doors.

Other suspicious blazes occurred at Black churches recently as well, according to the Atlantic:

In two other cases of fires at Southern black churches this week—at Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Gibson County, Tennessee, and the Greater Miracle Temple Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahassee, Florida—officials suspect the blazes were caused by lightening and electrical wires, respectively, but investigations are still ongoing.

The string of arson attacks and pending investigations about how these Black churches were set on fire comes at a time of heightened racial tension in the wake of the gruesome attack that left nine people dead, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a pastor and South Carolina state senator​, who President Obama recently eulogized.

 

 
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Black churches have been the target of hate crimes throughout U.S. history, dating back to before the Civil War.

16th Street Church. Birmingham, Alabama - Sept. 15, 1963.

Americans learn in history class about the bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama, when Ku Klux Klan terrorists killed four girls on Sept. 15, 1963.

“They died between the sacred walls of the church of God,” Reverend Martin Luther King said. “And they were discussing the eternal meaning of love.”

Mt. Zion Church. Longdale, Mississippi - June 16, 1964

On June 16, 1964, members of the Ku Klux Klan beat people leaving a church meeting in Longdale, Mississippi. They were targeting a civil rights activist named Michael Schwerner. Schwerner was not there, but the historic haven for slaves was burned down by the Klan anyway. Later, Schwerner and two other civil rights workers -- James Earl Chaney and Andrew Goodman -- drove to visit the burned church. On the way, they were pulled over, arrested, and jailed. They were released from jail then beaten and killed. Their story is told in the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning." The case of the three murdered civil rights workers was one of the key incidents that helped finally drive national attention to the plight of Black people living in the segregated South.

Macedonia Baptist Church and Mount Zion A.M.E. Church. South Carolina - June 21, 1995.

On June 21, 1995, four Ku Klux Klan members burned the Macedonia Baptist Church in South Carolina. The day before, a fire was set at Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina. In a decision against the Klan, Macedonia Baptist was awarded $37.8 million. There were more than 30 suspicious fires at Black churches in 1995 and 1996. This was a time where there was a rise in domestic terrorism, with the most devastating attack happening when anti-government extremists bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people .

Louisiana church fires - Feb. 1, 1996.

In Louisiana on Feb. 1, 1996, a group of churches within six miles — Cypress Grove Baptist, St. Paul's Free Baptist, Thomas Chapel Benevolent Society in East Baton Rouge, and Sweet Home Baptist in Baker — were each set on fire on the 36th anniversary of the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in.

Inner City Baptist Church. Knoxville, Tennessee - Jan. 8, 1996.

In Knoxville, Tennessee on Jan. 8, 1996, a fire at Inner City Baptist Church destroyed the sanctuary area. Racial slurs were painted on the walls inside, where Molotov cocktails, kerosene cans, and gunpowder were all found.

Macedonia Church of God in Christ. Springfield, Mass. - Nov. 5, 2008.

Shortly after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a predominantly Black church in Springfield, Massachusetts, was set on fire on Nov. 5 . The church was under construction at the time. Three white men were charged; two pleaded guilty, and a third was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Hate crimes

The FBI identified 3,563 victims of racially motivated hate crimes in 2013, according to the most recent federal data. Here's what the agency found:

  • Black victims constituted 66 percent of the total.
  • 21 percent were victims of anti-white bias.
  • 4.6 percent were victims of anti-Asian bias.
  • 4.5 percent were victims of anti-Native American bias.
  • Most of these hate crimes were not fatal.

Related: America's Biggest Terror Threat Is Not Who You Think