News Roundup: Who Is Burning Black Churches? -The Toast

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Of the now-seven black churches that have burned in the week since the Charleston massacre, at least three are currently being investigated by the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau as possible arsons. The latest church, Mount Zion AME in Greeleyville, was burned by KKK members already in 1995. (The WhoIsBurningBlackChurches tag on Twitter is a particularly helpful tool.)

Matt Pearce has been covering this beat for the last week or so at the LA Times; it’s worth following him on Twitter if you want to get the latest updates:

Investigators were also looking into what caused the fires that destroyed black churches in Macon, Ga., and Warrenville, S.C., though officials said they have not found a cause or any evidence of criminal intent in those blazes.

The ATF has taken the lead on investigating the fires in Charlotte and Macon. A spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that there was no update on those cases.

You can read the Times’ complete reporting about the fires in this story. None of the fires have been declared hate crimes.

The African-American Registry goes into a brief history of racist attacks on black churches in America:

In the late 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, the Black Church functioned as the institutional center for Black mobilization. They provided an organizational base and meeting place, for African-Americans to strategize their moves in the ongoing fight against racial segregation and oppression. As Black Churches became the epicenter of the social and political struggles for Black equality, they increasingly became targets for racially motivated violence. An extensive assault on members of a Black community took place by burning a Black Church.

The bombing and burning of Black churches during this time translated into an attack upon the core of civil rights activism, as well as upon the larger Black religious community. The most infamous example of racist American church destruction occurred on September 15, 1963. When the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was fire bombed, the explosion was felt by the entire Black community. Four children killed in the attack, several others injured, and a community’s sense of security within their church was forever traumatized.

This act signified the depths to which racial hatred could fall. Like many other churches bombed before and after, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was a Black Church. Even though the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was implicated in this crime, members of the KKK were not the only ones responsible for similar acts of terror throughout the country. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. These racially motivated arsons did not destroy the souls of Black communities.

Mother Jones has a more extensive timeline of similar fires and bombings, if you’re looking for a more thorough historical approach.

From the Washington Post:

Early June 24, someone called 911 to report that Charlotte’s Briar Creek Road Baptist Church had been set ablaze.

“The Baptist church on Briar Creek Road right before Central, it’s on fire,” the caller told dispatchers. “It’s really big.”

It took more than 75 firefighters over an hour to get the fire under control and, by then, it had caused more than $250,000 worth of damage and demolished the church’s main building, The Post reported. Charlotte Fire Department Senior Investigator David Williams later said in a statement that a probe determined the fire “was intentionally set.”

From the Kansas City Star:

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a United Methodist pastor, told The Star on Monday that while the recent church fires are a cause for concern, “this is nothing new for the black church community.”

“Attacking our churches has been a means of retaliation for progress almost since the beginning of the black church,” said Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat. “In many ways this is just a continuation after a recess by the racists.”

I was able to find an ecumenical fund that’s raising money to help these churches rebuild, but I haven’t been able to verify it; if anyone can confirm that this is a legitimate operation or knows of a better resource to direct anyone who wants to help toward, let us know in the comments.

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