Six Black Churches Burned

[Content Note: Terrorism; arson; white supremacy.]

Last Thursday, I mentioned that a predominantly black Baptist church in Charlotte, North Carolina, had been destroyed by a fire which was being investigated as arson. That was not, unfortunately, the only one. In the week since the AME Shooting, there have been six fires at Southern churches with largely or all black congregations:
The first fire came late June 21 when, police said, someone set fire to some hay bales just outside the College Hill Seventh Day Adventist in Knoxville, Tenn. The church sustained minor damage. Its van was also burned.

"Horror, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, what's going on?'" Pastor Cleveland Hobdy III told WATE-TV. Police told local news stations the fire is being investigated as arson but not as a hate crime.

Early June 23, God's Power Church of Christ in Macon, Ga., was on fire. When firefighters arrived, the front doors were wired shut and they had to enter through a side door, the local newspaper the Telegraph reported.

"'What's the church doing on fire?' That was my response to it," Associate Pastor Jeanette Dudley told WMAZ-TV. "I just couldn't believe it and once I got here, I did, I cried. I cried for a little bit."

The fire was ruled an arson, though police are not calling it a hate crime.

...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 Washington Post reported. Charlotte Fire Department Senior Investigator David Williams later told the Associated Press they determined the fire "was intentionally set."

...On June 26, the Glover Grove Baptist Church in Warrenville, S.C., burned down. Police said no cause for the fire had been determined.

"Everything is gone – books, robes, all my pictures, all my degrees," the Rev. Bobby Jean Jones told the Aiken Standard. "All the history is gone."

...Two other churches caught fire last week as well — Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Gibson County, Tenn., and the Greater Miracle Temple Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahassee, Fla. Authorities believe the fires were caused by lightning and electrical wires, respectively, though they are still investigating.

"We want to be sure, 100 percent sure, that this was an accidental fire, not on purpose," Gibson County Fire Chief Bryan Cathey told WBBJ-TV.
Writing about the arsons for the Atlanta Black Star, David A. Love observes that there is a long history of white supremacists burning black churches, because of the particular role black churches play in black life in the United States: "From slavery and the days of Jim Crow through the civil rights movement and beyond, white supremacists have targeted the Black church because of its importance as a pillar of the Black community, the center for leadership and institution building, education, social, and political development and organizing to fight oppression. Strike at the Black church, and you strike at the heart of Black American life."

Which, of course, is the entire point. As I have said many times before: These are not "senseless" crimes. They make a perfect, terrible sense inside a framework of white supremacist terrorism, where "striking at the heart of Black American life" is precisely the objective.

These are not isolated incidents. They are connected, to each other and to an ugly history of white supremacist terrorism.

The only people who can't see that are those unwilling to look.

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