Monday, June 29, 2015

Fires At 6 Black Churches In 5 Southern States

Since nine people were killed in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, allegedly by a 21-year-old white man tied to white supremacist groups, there have been a string of arson attacks on other black churches in the South.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least six predominantly black churches in four Southern states have been damaged or destroyed by fire in the past week. While some may have been accidental, at least three have been determined to be the result of arson.

Black churches have frequently been targets of violence. Since 1956, there have been by most counts about 100 incidents of shootings, bombings, arson, or vandalism against black churches. One particular incident stood out during the Civil Rights Movement, when four young girls were killed and 22 were injured at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. That, however, is likely a significant  under count.

Spikes in violence rise and fall with white supremacist rhetoric, with more than 30 black churches burned within 18 months in 1995 and 1996. That led to the passage of the Church Arson Prevention Act in 1996, which gave federal authorities more oversight of such crimes, increased sentencing, and reauthorized the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.

The Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston has its own long history of violence. It’s the oldest A.M.E. church in the South, dating back to 1791 when it was formed by free blacks and slaves. But in 1822, it was burned to the ground after one of its founders attempted to plan a slave revolt.

Listen to a NPR report: Investigators Probe Fires At 6 Black Churches In 5 Southern States

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