by David Love
The recent rash of black church burnings have many African-Americans wondering if this marks a resurgence of the nation’s original terrorists — white supremacists.
Following the June 17 massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. — in which a white supremacist and Confederate sympathizer gunned down nine black congregants attending a Bible study meeting — eight predominantly black churches have burned, including seven in the South.
The latest fire was at Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, which is about 60 miles northwest of Charleston. Although authorities say the church fire does not appear to have been intentionally set, the church was burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan 20 years ago.
While these church burnings are still under investigation, some are believed to be the result of arson and hate crimes. But even if a few of these cases are not acts of terrorism and are accidental, one can only conclude that the timing of these fires creates an awfully peculiar and disturbing pattern.
The other church fires in the past ten days include College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, which caught fire on June 22. According to the fire department, the fire was an arson.
On June 23, God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, was set on fire, a case which investigators regard as arson.
Meanwhile, on June 24, the Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was completely destroyed in what authorities consider deliberate arson. Also on June 24, the burning of the Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Gibson County, Tennessee, may have been the result of lightning, though an investigation is underway.
The cause of the fire that destroyed College Heights Baptist Church in Elyria, Ohio, on June 25 has yet to be determined.
And the Glover Grove Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina, was burned on June 26, to this date the result of undetermined causes. The Greater Miracle Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahassee, Florida, burned to the ground last week, and the fire department believes it was caused by faulty electrical wiring.
Although the concept of attacking black churches is both terrifying and an outrage, black churches have been set ablaze by white supremacist terrorists for as long as there have been black churches.
Charleston’s Emauel AME, the oldest black church in the South, which was created as a safe haven for black folks seeking refuge from discrimination and oppression, was burned to the ground for its role in the Denmark Vesey slave rebellion in 1822. Vesey was a founder of Emanuel AME.
Since that time, the black church has been a target for domestic terrorists, bombers and arsonists due to its central role in black life and its a driving force in the black community. Traditionally, the black church has been on the front lines of movement organizing and the struggle for civil rights. One of the most well-known cases was the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963 by the Klan, which killed four girls and became a turning point helping to clear the way for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In the 1990s, an epidemic of black church burnings led to passage of the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, which President Clinton signed into law.
And today, with a black president, economic uncertainty, and white unease over the browning and blackening of America, white rightwing extremists want to take their country back. Hate groups, neo-Confederates, the Klan and neo-Nazis fan the flames of hate, and conservative politicians give a wink and a nod through their hateful words and racist policies that roll back civil rights and place people of color in danger.
Meanwhile, some people conclude the very concept of black church burnings are a hoax, just as they also dismiss racism as a thing of the past. But these fires are very real, designed to strike black people where it hurts and instill fear in our hearts and minds. Often, these acts of terrorism are not taken seriously when the perpetrators are white men. But if ISIS was burning churches in America, there would be no more fires. Now is the time to take white supremacy seriously.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.