A history of vi­o­lence

Like the Charleston shoot­ing, black church fires in 1990s rocked na­tion

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan Parker ryan. parker@ latimes. com

Black churches were tar­geted long be­fore Charleston.

For 90 years, Mt. Zion African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church stood as a place of wor­ship in Gree­leyville, S. C.

On June 20, 1995, it was burned to the ground.

Two young white men with sus­pected ties to the Ku Klux Klan were ar­rested in con­nec­tion with the fire, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments from House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ings held in 1996.

“To see the church burned was sad to me, but to learn that the church was burned by hideous acts of oth­ers crushed my heart,” the Rev. Ter­rance G. Mackey, pas­tor of Mt. Zion, said dur­ing the hear­ings.

His words then echo the emo­tions af­ter last week’s at­tack on the his­toric Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S. C.: “To know that in 1995 peo­ple still have that much hate in their hearts for oth­ers, I said to my­self: Are we go­ing for­ward or are we go­ing back­ward in this coun­try?”

Mackey’s ques­tion to Congress had no clear an­swer.

Even then- Pres­i­dent Clin­ton’s re­sponse al­most a year later sounds fa­mil­iar to­day: “We need to come to­gether as one Amer­ica to re­build our churches, re­store hope and show the forces of ha­tred that they can­not win,” he said be­fore head­ing to Gree­leyville, where Mt. Zion was be­ing re­built.

In­deed, 20 years ago, a string of churches was burned, mostly in South­ern states — a statis­tic cited by Repub­li­can Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illi­nois, then chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

“This year alone there have been 21 church fires in­volv­ing African Amer­i­can churches,” he said at the time, not­ing there was “con­sid­er­able ev­i­dence that some of these church fires were con­nected and that some were racially mo­ti­vated in­ci­dents.”

One black con­gress­man from Alabama likened the church at­tacks to the bib­li­cal plague. “Over the past three years, the in­ci­dents of black church burn­ings have nearly quadru­pled,” Rep. Earl F. Hil­liard, a Demo­crat, told the House com­mit­tee. “The small town of Boligee in my dis­trict was dev­as­tated by church fires. In two sep­a­rate at­tacks, ar­son­ists torched four black churches be­fore es­cap­ing un­seen into the night.”

Four African Amer­i­can churches were burned in west Ten­nessee in 1995, in­clud­ing two on the same day: Mace­do­nia Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church in Crockett County and John­son Grove Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church in Madi­son County on Jan. 13.

Some fires in­cluded racist mes­sages. On Jan. 8, 1996, the sanc­tu­ary of the In­ner City Church in Knoxville, Tenn., was de­stroyed. Racial slurs di­rected at African Amer­i­cans were spray- painted on the doors and walls of the build­ing, ac­cord­ing to con­gres­sional doc­u­ments. The church had more than 500 mem­bers of var­i­ous races.

The task force in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dent con­sisted of 70 fed­eral and lo­cal of­fi­cials.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Of­fice of the In­spec­tor Gen­eral, con­tro­versy erupted when the NAACP learned of pos­si­ble con­nec­tions be­tween fed­eral and lo­cal law en­force­ment of­fi­cials in­ves­ti­gat­ing the church fires and the “Good O’ Boy Roundups.”

The Roundups were racially fu­eled, whites- only gath­er­ings at­tended by fed­eral and lo­cal law en­force­ment, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco and Firearms, as the agency was then known, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

“Sev­eral African Amer­i­cans in Ten­nessee ex­pressed dis­trust of the Knoxville Po­lice Depart­ment and ATF be­cause of the wide­spread belief that mem­bers of both agen­cies had par­tic­i­pated in such a racially of­fen­sive event,” the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port stated. “Our lo­cal NAACP of­fi­cials won­dered whether ATF agents in­volved in such de­spi­ca­ble and overtly racist con­duct as the ‘ Good O’ Boy Roundups’ pos­sess the sen­si­tiv­ity to vig­or­ously pur­sue jus­tice in what many be­lieve are racially mo­ti­vated hate crimes.”

In the vi­o­lence in Charleston last week, nine African Amer­i­cans were fa­tally shot in what is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated as a hate crime. A white 21- year- old sus­pect, Dy­lann Roof, has been ar­rested and charged with mur­der.

“We wel­comed you Wed­nes­day night in our Bi­ble study with open arms,” Fele­cia San­ders said be­fore a video feed of Roof shown in the court­room last week dur­ing his bond hear­ing. “You have killed some of the most beau­ti­fulest peo­ple that I know. Ev­ery fiber in my body hurts … and I’ll never be the same.”

San­ders sur­vived the shoot­ings, but her son, Ty­wanza, 26, was killed.

The at­tack, in which each vic­tim was shot mul­ti­ple times, is among the most hor­rific en­tries on a list that goes back decades and in­cludes the 1963 bomb­ing of the 16th Street Bap­tist Church in Birm­ing­ham, Ala.

Ku Klux Klan mem­bers planted the Birm­ing­ham bomb, which killed four African Amer­i­can girls. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called it “one of the most vi­cious and tragic crimes ever per­pe­trated against hu­man­ity.”

In Charleston on Fri­day, NAACP Pres­i­dent Cor­nell Wil­liam Brooks called the Emanuel AME shoot­ings “an act of racial ter­ror­ism.”

“This crime may have oc­curred in mo­ments. But it came into be­ing over some time,” Brooks said Sun­day on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion.” “This young man was in­doc­tri­nated, rad­i­cal­ized, if you will, with an ide­ol­ogy of white na­tion­al­ism or racism. And so the point be­ing here is we’ve got to look at not only this in­di­vid­ual act of bru­tal­ity. We also have to look at the at­mos­phere from which it emerged. And we have to ad­dress that.”

Emanuel is the old­est AME church in the South, trac­ing its roots as far back as 1791, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Parks Ser­vice. Emanuel also was once burned to the ground — in 1822, for its con­nec­tion to an aborted slave re­volt.

In the Mt. Zion case, the two sus­pects were for­mer Ku Klux Klans­men who pleaded guilty to fed­eral charges of civil rights vi­o­la­tions in the burn­ings of two pre­dom­i­nantly black churches, one of them Mt. Zion. In 1998, both saw their sen­tences re­duced af­ter pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion in other cases, in­clud­ing a bur­glary and a check fraud scheme. Gary Cox had his 19- year sen­tence re­duced to 14 years and Ti­mothy Welch’s sen­tence was cut from 18 years to 12 years.

Joe Mar­quette As­so­ci­ated Press

I N 1996, Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, with the Rev. Ter­rance Mackey, vis­ited the site in Gree­leyville, S. C., where the Mt. Zion AME Church burned down.

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