A series of excerpts from commentary I've seen in the past few days about the spate of suspicious burnings of black churches in the South after the Charleston shootings, which I want to share with you:
1. A Twitter thread, #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, has now developed to draw attention to the suspicious burning of black churches following Dylann Roof's shooting of 9 members of Mother Emanuel church in Charleston.
2. Bill Morlin reporting for Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch on 26 June:
In what may not be a coincidence, a string of nighttime fires have damaged or destroyed at least six predominately black churches in four southern states in the past week.
Arsonists started at least three of the fires, while other causes are being examined in the other fires, investigators say.
3. Bryce Covert at Think Progress two days after that:
Since nine people were gunned down 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.
Days after the Charleston massacre, several predominantly black churches in the South have burned down. Now federal officials are investigating whether any of the blazes—three of which have been ruled arson—could be hate crimes.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which highlighted the rash of fires, said the incidents "may not be a coincidence" in the wake of Dylann Roof killing nine people at a historically black church. Since the June 17 shooting, Southern states have also been embroiled in a debate over flying the Confederate flag.
"We’re in a very intense moment in which one man has tried to start a race war," Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the advocacy firm, told The Daily Beast. "We’re looking at the possibility of a violent backlash building."
Recent church fires in the aftermath of the mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, have invoked painful memories of the long, terrible history of attacks on African-American religious institutions.
6. And, then, as Andrew Hart reported for Huffington Post on Tuesday, on Tuesday night, the historic Mt. Zion A.M.E. church in Greeleyville, South Carolina, burned down (though the FBI apparently thinks particular fire was caused by lightning):
It is the seventh prominent African-American church in the South to have been burned down since a gunman killed nine people at the historic black church Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston two weeks ago."
7. Bill Moyers noted the burning of Mt. Zion church in his Facebook feed yesterday, and an extensive discussion of this and the other church burnings has developed in response to that posting.
8. As Fred Clark reminded readers of his Slacktivist blog yesterday, the burning of black churches by white hate groups is, unfortunately, nothing new — it has been going on, as a white supremacist terrorist tactic, for a very long time now:
How often do such hate crimes targeting black churches occur? We do not know because we have not kept track or kept records. And it seems we only sometimes pay attention.
9. Here's Kaitlin Campbell making a similar point at Commonweal yesterday:
To speculate that an organized (racist) movement (motivated by hate) might be behind the crimes is common sense, especially since there is a tradition of burning black churches that was believed to have ended in 1996, only after the Dept. of Justice under the Clinton Administration needed to create a National Church Arson task force to deal with a resurgence of this age-old practice in the mid-90s.
The Southern Poverty Law center reported 784 active hate groups in 2014. That number is up from 602 hate groups in 2000, before President Obama was elected. Neo-Nazis make up 142 of them; Racist-Skinheads, 119; White Nationalist, 115; Black Separatist, 115; Ku Klux Klan, 72; and others fill out the rest.
10. Anthea Butler today at Religion Dispatches:
The summer of 1964 was the focus of a drive to register voters, the Mississippi Summer Project, which was later called Freedom Summer, hosted by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It was designed to bring white students from the north to help register black voters in the south.
That summer in Mississippi, 20 churches were burned by the Klu Klux Klan. One in particular, Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Neshoba County, Mississippi, was burned by the Klan to lure Michael "Mickey" Schwarner back to where he had worked registering black voters. . . .
One day after the 51st anniversary of the murder of Schwarner, Chaney and Goodman, nine African Americans were shot down in cold blood in the sanctuary of Emmanuel AME church in Charleston on June 17, 2015.
11. At The Guardian, Gary Younge notes that he's moving his family back from the U.S. to England this summer, and proposes that it's inevitable that the U.S. is entering on another long, hot summer that will be marked by ongoing turmoil over issues of race:
If I had to pick a summer to leave, this would be the one. Another season of black parents grieving, police chiefs explaining and clueless anchors opining. Another season when America has to be reminded that black lives matter because black deaths at the hands of the state have been accepted as routine for so long. A summer ripe for rage.
The video of Maya Angelou reading from James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time is from DKD Media at Vimeo, and is an excerpt from DKD's documentary "James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket." I hope that readers outside the U.S. won't encounter problems watching it. If you do, please tell me.