Bombings, Arsons Have Plagued Black Churches in America

The killings of at the historic Emanuel AME Church is the latest in a history of violence

The shootings of nine people at Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South, Carolina, on Wednesday was the latest in a long history of attacks on black churches in the United States.

The most widely known had been the Sunday morning bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, at the height of the civil rights movement. Four young girls died when a bomb planted under the steps of the church exploded on Sept. 15, 1963.

“They died between the sacred walls of the church of God,” the Rev. Martin Luther King said at one of the funerals.

Four members of a Ku Klux Klan splinter group were suspected of the bombing but justice came slowly. One man was convicted in 1977, one in 2001, and one in 2002. A fourth man died without being prosecuted.

Other violence struck churches across the country, including an earlier attack on Emanuel AME Church, which burned in the early 1800s after one of its organizers, Denmark Vesey, led a failed slave rebellion in Charleston.

June 29, 1958: A dynamite bomb damaged Bethel Baptist Church, also in Birmingham. Its pastor was the civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth. A white supremacist was convicted more than two decades later.

Summer 1964: About three dozen black churches were burned or bombed in Mississippi during the drive to register black voters called Freedom Sumer. The murders of the three civil rights workers, James Chaney of the Congress of Racial Equality and two volunteers, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, came after they inspected the charred ruins of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Neshoba County, which was burned by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

June 1996: Then-President Bill Clinton appointed a task force to investigate an 18-month-long string of fires set at churches particularly at black ones in the rural South. Of 670 fires that were investigated nationwide by October 1998, 225 involved black churches.

Nov. 5, 2008: An arson fire burned Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Massachusetts, hours after Barack Obama was elected as the country’s first black president. Two white men pleaded guilty and a third was convicted by jurors in what was described as a hate crime.

Noreen O'Donnell contributed to this article

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