Why Recent Black Church Fires Have the Smell of Racial History

Investigators use a ladder truck to get a bird's eye view as they try to determine the cause of a fire that destroyed the Glover Grove Baptist Church in Warrenville, S.C. The FBI joined other police agencies in investigating the blaze that destroyed the predominantly black church in Aiken County. No one was injured. (Todd Bennett/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)
Investigators use a ladder truck to get a bird’s eye view as they try to determine the cause of a fire that destroyed the Glover Grove Baptist Church in Warrenville, S.C. The FBI joined other police agencies in investigating the blaze that destroyed the predominantly black church in Aiken County. No one was injured. (Todd Bennett/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)

“A troubling trend in the South is causing many people to fear racial hatred is rising as black churches again become targets of arson.”

The previous quote is not from 2015, but from a 1996 CNN report documenting several church burnings across the South. Inner-City Church on Skyline Drive in Knoxville, Tennessee was the main focus of the report and it was mostly known for its Associate Pastor, the late Reggie White.

Found at the remains of the church were gunpowder, gasoline, and Molotov Cocktails. Investigators found leaflets that read “1996 shall be the year of white triumph and justice for the master supreme race,” illustrating with a clear and powerful voice that the church members were attacked because the color of their skin and not the conviction of their faith.

I was eleven years old at the time, and the only pressing issue of race to my understanding was O.J. Simpson. I don’t remember any major issue that could serve as context to these burnings, but it was painfully clear that Inner City Church and others were targeted because of race.

The amount of church burnings was so bad that President Bill Clinton called for a National Church Arson Task Force. In their report, it said that since 1995, the majority of churches targeted were Black churches. My last memory of anything related to Inner-City church was an episode of Unsolved Mysteries on NBC. No movement followed.

After the Charleston shooting, College Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Mechanicsville located near Knoxville College was among one of the first Black churches targeted for arsonists with a church van destroyed by fire and a failed attempt to burn the building. Initial investigations concluded that there was not enough evidence to name such incidents as racially motivated.  Since then, other Black churches damaged were deemed as the results faulty wiring or random arsons.

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Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Andre Canty

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