South Carolina (TIP) Jul 1: Again a black church in the South went up in flames Tuesday, June 30, night, this time historic Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal in Williamsburg County, South Carolina — 20 years after it was burned to the ground by Ku Klux Klan members.
No injuries were immediately reported, but The Kingstree News of Williamsburg County reported that the church was “gutted.” It’s the latest in a string of fires at predominantly black Southern churches that began after a white gunman killed nine black worshipers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, about 50 miles south of Greeleyville, on June 17.
The fires have fueled concerns about the potential for a new wave of racist violence since the Charleston shootings, and the FBI has launched an investigation.
It is the eighth black church in the Southern U.S. to burn in 10 days
Parishioners across the South are surveying the damage that a string of similar fires has caused this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports, starting in Knoxville, Tenn., on June 21 and moving to Macon, Ga., and Gibson County, in Tennessee, on June 23; Charlotte, N.C., on June 24; Elyria, Ohio, on June 25; and Tallahassee, Fla., and Warrenville, S.C., on June 26.
Three of those fires have been ruled arson, one was determined to be caused by a falling branch and faulty wiring, and the others remain under investigation. Several have been blamed preliminarily on lightning; weather in the South this week has been turbulent.
Mount Zion was burned to the ground by the KKK in 1995, part of a string of 30 fires in black churches that spanned two years.
Mount Zion, founded more than 110 years ago, was burned to the ground June 20, 1995, by two members of the Ku Klux Klan, who pleaded guilty the next year. President Bill Clinton attended the rededication of the rebuilt church a year later, speaking words that have been echoed in the last two weeks:
“It was the church that saved the people until the civil rights revolution came along. And it is, therefore, I think, doubly troubling to people … who spent their entire lives working for equal opportunity among our people, working for an end to the hatred that divided us for too long, to see our native South engulfed in a rash of church burnings.
“We have to say to all of you who have been afflicted by this, we know that we’re not going back to those dark days, but we are now reminded that our job is not done. Dr. King once said, ‘What self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.'”