Since the Charleston church massacre at Emanuel AME, where nine people were shot and killed, six churches with predominately black congregations in five Southern states have burned. From Tallahassee, Fla., to Knoxville, Tenn., at least three of the fires are being investigated as arson.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are working with local authorities to find those who set them. The ATF is leading the investigation into possible arson at the churches, while the FBI is trying to determine the perpetrators and motives. The FBI is involved because of the racial make-up of the congregations, and is trying to determine whether the fires were hate crimes.
“They’re being investigated to determine who is responsible and what motives are behind them,” FBI spokesman Paul Bresson told BuzzFeed News. “I’m not sure there is any reason to link them together at this point.”
The church fires begin just days after Dylann Roof, 21, shot and killed nine people during a prayer service on June 17 at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, including the church’s pastor. Roof has been charged with nine counts of homicide and possession of a firearm.
Here is a list of the black southern church fires that have taken place since the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.:
College Hill Seventh Day Adventist (1837 Brandau St, Knoxville, TN), caught fire on Sunday, June 21. “When I look at this .. I think of an intention to try to destroy this entire church,” said Pastor Cleveland Hobdy III. “It makes it sad. It’s sad either way that someone would put their mind to try to damage a church that’s trying to help people.” Investigators say it is not being looked at as a hate crime. The church sustained minor damage. Its van was also burned.
God’s Power Church of Christ (1985 Cedar Ave, Macon, GA) – Macon-Bibb County Fire Sgt. Ben Gleaton determined that a fire set Tuesday June 23, was set intentionally. The FBI is looking into the incident to determine if it was a hate crime. “Opening a preliminary inquiry doesn’t suggest that a hate crime has occurred, but rather ensures that it is getting additional scrutiny for hate crime potential,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Britt Johnson said in a statement.
Briar Creek Road Baptist Church (1451 Briar Creek Rd, Charlotte, NC), was set on fire on Wednesday, June 24. The church wasn’t completely destroyed, but there was $250,000 worth of damages. “We completed our work on the scene and determined this was intentionally set,” said Charlotte Fire Department Senior Investigator David Williams
Fruitland Presbyterian Church, said to be the oldest church in Gibson County, Tenn., caught fire, Wednesday, June 24. “Well, it’s just sad,” Elaine Dooley, a former church member, told WBBJ. “It’s just like losing a family member.” Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the fire.
The Greater Miracle Temple Apostolic Holiness Church (2201 St. Mark’s Street Tallahassee, FL) caught fire on Friday June 26, after a tree limb fell and exposed electrical wires, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “To see it all go is like something has been taken out of you, ripped away from you,” said Jacob Henderson Jr, son of the church’s pastor. “That’s the toughest part.”
Glover Grove Missionary Baptist Church located in the small town of Warrenville, Sout Carolina, burned down on Friday June 26. So far, no cause has been determined for the fire.
The ATF would not say how many fires it is investigating, but said the scope of the investigation includes fires in various states in the past six months, including three previous fires in Tennessee that occurred before the Charleston shooting.
The agency added that there may be more fires that have not been identified yet and is encouraging the leaders of churches that arent open several days a week, to check on their churches regularly.
As African Americans in all across the south contemplate rebuilding more churches destroyed by fire, a phalanx of federal investigators moves across the South, searching for evidence linking the latest attacks to the burning of 29 other black churches in the last 18 months. So far, investigators have yet to uncover evidence of a “national conspiracy,” but America has a long history of black churches burning.
It is worth observing that the absence of any organized conspiracy may make the phenomenon of church burning more, rather than less, disturbing. Far easier to abide the idea of a tight-knit group of racist fanatics than to accept the alternative that we live in a time when a substantial number of individuals, unconnected with one another or with organized white supremacist groups, regard burning black churches as a plausible act, worthy of emulation, The Los Angles Times reported last week.
Such a prospect becomes even more sobering when one places church burning in historical context. Most commentators and political leaders, including President Bill Clinton, have noted parallels between recent events and attacks on black churches during the civil rights era. Torching black churches, however, has a far longer pedigree in the United States. Indeed, for as long as there have been separate black churches, there have been whites determined to destroy them, the LA Times article goes on to say.
One of the most documented cases, an act of white supremacist terrorism was the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday, September 15, 1963. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted a minimum of 15 sticks of dynamite attached to a timing device beneath the front steps of the church. Described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” the explosion at the church killed four girls and injured 22 others. The 16th Street Baptist Church served as a civil rights meeting place in the 1960’s and a center for the African-American community in Birmingham.
If these latest burning of Black Churches teaches us anything, it’s the removal of the confederate flag (which has been a hot topic, especially in political circles) does not free us of the systematic racism that has plagued this country since its existence. Let’s us not forget all the acts of racism that were committed under the American Flag,like slavery and Jim Crow. I say that to say the removal of the confederate flag will not end racism.
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company, Host & Producer of the People Before Politics Radio Show. AJ is a Father, Brother, An Author, Journalism Fellow (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism), Hip-Hop Artist - one third of the legendary underground rap group JVC FORCE known for the single Strong Island, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian, Documentarian, Activist, Criminal Justice Advocate and Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Daily Challenge Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine, Word Up! Magazine, On The Go Magazine and several others.