Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina burned for hours late Tuesday night before firefighters were able to control the flames. As of Wednesday morning the roof had collapsed and only the outer brick walls remained intact.
"We haven't ruled anything in or anything out at this point" said Craig Chillcott, an assistant special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives field division in Charlotte, North Carolina, regarding the cause of the blaze.
Mount Zion is the latest in a string of at least seven fires at predominantly black churches in the southern United States over the course of 11 days. No one has been injured but several churches have been left in ashes. Officials have not yet ruled that any of the fires were racially motivated, but many people have taken to social media with the hashtag #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, arguing that this cannot simply be coincidence.
Stop the passive language. Fires aren't "breaking out" at Black churches. Black churches are being set on fire. #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches— Charles Wade (@akacharleswade) July 1, 2015
NAACP State Conferences and units are now alerting black churches to take necessary precautions. #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches— NAACP (@NAACP) June 30, 2015
The history of racially motivated church burnings in the US is vast and wide. Mount Zion, the Greeleyville church, was burnt down in 1995 by two members of the Ku Klux Klan. The building was rededicated in 1996 with a visit from then-president Bill Clinton, who urged: ""Every house of worship in America must be a sacred place." The 1995 burning was one in a string of church fires in the South from late 1995 to early 1996.
This sort of violence against predominantly black churches can be traced back to the civil war.
The latest fires follow the racially motivated killing of nine people at the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. On June 17. at a eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, President Barack Obama said black churches are the "center of African-American life."
We have created a map of the latest fires at predominantly black churches, and what officials have said so far regarding their causes:
God's Power Church of Christ —Macon, Georgia, June 21
Macon-Bibb County public information stated that the blaze was being investigated as arson, but that it does not seem to be a hate crime.
College Hill Seventh-day Adventist — Knoxville, Tennessee, June 21
The Knoxville Fire Department is investigating the fire, stating it was arson, but there is no evidence it was a hate crime as opposed to vandalism.
Fruitland Presbyterian Church — Gibson County, Tennessee, June 23
State bomb and arson investigators determined a lightning strike hit the church steeple at about 8:30 pm.
Briar Creek Road Church — Charlotte, North Carolina, June 24
The Charlotte Fire Department ruled the flame was arson, and are investigating whether it was a hate crime.
Glover Grove Baptist — Warrenville, South Carolina, June 26
Officials have not yet determined a cause for the fire.
Greater Miracle Apostolic Holiness Church — Tallahassee, Florida, June 26
Tallahassee Fire Department and State Fire Marshal investigators believe the fire was caused by an electrical wire. Investigations are still under way.
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church — Greeleyville, South Carolina, June 30
Williamsburg County Fire department said the cause of the blaze was not yet clear, though lightning was suspected.
Though not in the Southeast, a fire was also reported at Echo Park church in Los Angeles on June 29. The church parishioners are largely Latino, Filipino, Samoan and African American. The Los Angeles Fire Department has determined the blaze was arson.
On July 1, New Shiloh Christian Center, in a predominantly black church in Melbourne, Florida was vandalized. The vandals ransacked the church bistro, left shattered glass on the floor, sprayed fire extinguishers and left a truck in the parking lot, spray-painted with the words "Charleston 2." The church storage unit was set on fire earlier this year. Melbourne police are investigating the incident.