The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church isn't the only black institution to have been the target of violence in recent weeks. Fire has struck at least half a dozen other churches, suggesting that a tactic of racial oppression as old as slavery and Jim Crow is alive and well in 2015.
A new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center says that at least six predominantly black churches have been damaged or destroyed by fire since June 17, the day white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine congregants at Charleston, S.C.'s, Emanuel AME.
Not all of the blazes have been confirmed to be the result of arson, but the SPLC found that at least three church fires were intentionally set in Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina.
1. College Hills Seventh Day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., on Monday, June 22
A local ABC affiliate reports that although federal officials believe this to be an arson fire, they are not investigating it as a hate crime.
2. God's Power Church of Christ in Macon, Ga., on Tuesday, June 23
According to the Charlotte Observer, investigators are still determining whether to pursue this arson fire as a hate crime.
3. Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, June 24
Senior Charlotte Fire Department Investigator David Williams determined that this blaze was "intentionally set," per The Root. His team has yet to determine whether it constitutes a hate crime, however.
Three more church fires have broken out in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida. Their causes have yet to be determined.
4. Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Fruitland, Tenn., on Wednesday, June 24
Officials believe that a lightning strike caused this fire, according to local ABC affiliate WBBJ.
5. Glover Grover Baptist Church in Warrenville, S.C., on Friday, June 26
The Associated Press says that state and federal officials have yet to determine the cause of the fire that struck Glover Grover Baptist Church on Friday.
6. Greater Miracle Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahassee, Fla., on Friday, June 26
Local fire officials have yet to confirm the cause of the fire, WCTV reports, but they believe that it was electrical—not arson.
A history of racially-fueled violence
Whether arson or incidental, these fires recall a form of racially-motivated violence that has deeply historical roots. ("White supremacists have targeted the Black church because of its importance as a pillar of the Black community," David A. Love wrote in the Atlanta Blackstar on Friday.) Nearly two centuries ago, Charleston's Emanuel AME was razed by slaveowners after it was discovered that some congregants were planning what would have been the biggest slave revolt in U.S. history.
Unfortunately, it's somewhat difficult to place these recent arson fires in Knoxville, Macon, and Charlotte into a more recent context as there aren't any readily available resources on the statistics of black church burnings in the 21st century.
That wasn't always the case. The federal government established the National Church Arson Task Force in 1996 (along with the Church Arson Prevention Act) to combat an uptick in attacks on black churches. But that task force was later disbanded, The Atlantic says.
According to a report issued in February 2000, the Task Force opened "827 investigations into arsons, bombings, or attempted bombings that have occurred at houses of worship between January 1995 and October 1999"; 287 of the defendants tried in connection to those crimes were convicted. A different report issued around the same time by the U.S. Fire Administration cites arson as the leading cause of church fires.
That was in 2001, and, 14 years later, the burning of black churches persists. Without statistics from those past 14 years, it becomes harder to show how this problem is more than just a series of isolated incidents.
Fusion has reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice for more recent statistics on arson and other racially-motivated attacks on black churches in America. We'll update the story if we hear back.
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