The Recent, Hateful History of Attacks on Black Churches


Update, June 29, 11 a.m. PT: Fires have been reported at six black churches in five southern states since the mass shooting in Charleston. Two of the fires are thought to have been from electrical or other unintentional causes, but at least two other are being investigated as arson. (See timeline below.) According to BuzzFeed, the FBI and ATF are investigating the incidents. For more, including an interview with a pastor at a church that burned in South Carolina, see this NPR story.
 

Churches have long been hubs of organizing and advocacy in the black community, which was one reason they were so often attacked during the civil rights movement. But the violence didn’t end there—attacks and threats against black churches and institutions still take place at a greater frequency than you might think. Here is a partial list of church incidents in the past two decades alone:

1996

January 8: Eighteen Molotov cocktails are thrown at Inner City Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The phrases, “Die N—– Die” and “White is Right” are painted on the church’s back door.

Rep. Larry Hill looks over the remains of Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church. Chuck Barton/AP Photo

January 11: Mount Zoar Baptist Church and Little Zion Baptist Church, two black churches within six miles of each other, are burned to the ground on the same night in rural Alabama.

February 8: The Department of Justice launches an investigation into a string of arsons at black churches in rural Tennessee and Alabama.

June 7: Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church is set on fire in Charlotte, North Carolina.

1997
 

March 22: Two men burn down Macedonia Baptist Church in Ferris, Texas. Asked why they did it, according to the US Attorney General’s Office, one of the men responded, “because it was a n—– church.”

June 30: Five white men and women, all between the ages of 18 and 21, burn down St. Joe Baptist Church, a small church of 21 worshippers in Little River, Alabama.

2004

January 12: Two white men in Roanoke, Virginia, cause $77,000 worth of damage to the inside of Mount Moriah Baptist Church after breaking into and vandalizing the premises.

2006
 

July 11: A cross is burned outside a predominantly black church in Richmond, Virginia.

2008

Firefighters work at the scene of a fire at the Macedonia Church of God in Christ. Mark M. Murray/AP Photo

November 5: The morning after President Obama’s first election, three white men set alight Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Massachusetts. The church was under construction.

2010

December 28: A white man firebombs Faith in Christ Church in Crane, Texas, in an attempt to “gain status” with the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang.

2011

June 23: The FBI investigates a cross burning on the lawn of St. John’s Baptist Church in Sapulpa, Oklahoma.

November 17: Vandals break into Cedar Hill AME Zion Church in Ansonville, North Carolina. They throw chairs through the stained glass windows, burn a cross, defecate on an alter, and dig up the tombstone of a child buried in the church’s historic slave cemetery.

2013

February 25: Vandals break into a day care center housed within a church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; spray paint swastikas on the inside; and set the building alight. One church member said that, several weeks earlier, the church had received a call saying, “We need these n—– to get out of here.”

2014

Members of the destroyed Flood Christian Church hold service in a tent in Country Club Hill, Missouri. J.B Forbes/AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

November 26: Federal officials open an investigation into the arson of Flood Christian Church, the church attended by Michael Brown Sr., the father of Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The fire was set the same night the prosecutor in the case announced he would not bring charges against officer Darren Wilson for killing Brown.

July 22: A cross is burned in the parking lot of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee.

2015

Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. David Goldman/AP Photo

June 17: Dylann Roof kills nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

June 24: Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., went up in flames in the early morning. A wing of the church used as an education center was nearly completely destroyed, and the sanctuary and gymnasium sustained extensive smoke damage, with damages totaling an estimated $250,000. The fire is being investigated as arson.

June 28: Bales of hay and bags of dirt were set on fire and left against the front doors of College Hill Seventh Day Adventist church in Knoxville, T.N. Separately, a church van was also set on fire and destroyed. The fires are being investigated as arson.

 

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate