US & Canada

US black church rebuilt after arson is destroyed in fire

Fire crews try to control a blaze at the Mt Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina - 30 July 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Investigators have not determined the cause of the fire in Greeleyville, South Carolina

An African-American church once targeted by the Ku Klux Klan has been destroyed in a fire again, the latest in a series of blazes at black churches across the US south.

Authorities are still trying to determine the cause of the fire in Greeleyville, South Carolina, but early findings suggest it was not arson.

The FBI is investigating several fires at black churches in recent days.

At least three of those blazes were intentionally set, officials say.

However, officials said there is no evidence as of yet that the fires are linked.

After hearing the news, Eddie Woods Jr, a local councilman, rushed to the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church late Tuesday.

"That was a tough thing to see," Mr Woods told the AP news agency. "It is hurting those people again. But we're going to rebuild. If this was someone, they need to know that hate won't stop us again."

Analysis: Nick Bryant, BBC News, New York

White supremacists first started burning down churches in the 1820s in order to terrorise black communities. Places of worship were deliberately targeted because blacks regarded them as sanctuaries and safe havens.

In the south, this vicious tactic became commonplace in the aftermath of the American Civil War and during the civil-rights era of the '50s and '60s. Even in the 1990s,

President Bill Clinton grew so concerned by a spate of hate crimes targeting black churches that he established the National Church Arson Task Force. It was in 1995 that members of the KKK burned to the ground Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal, in Greeleyville, South Carolina.

Though the latest church fire may have been caused by a thunderstorm, at least three of the church fires since the Charleston massacre have been deliberate acts of arson. Though there is no evidence that these attacks have been coordinated, they will raise fears that angry whites are retaliating following moves to lower the Confederate flag across the American south.

No one was in hurt in the fire and investigators plan to return to the scene on Wednesday.

Authorities in South Carolina cautioned that a storm that swept through the area on Tuesday night may have been the cause.

But others suspected arson because the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church has been targeted before.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mount Zion AME Church had been rebuilt after an arson in 1995
Image copyright AP
Image caption Investigators are trawling through the wreckage to determine how the fire started

In 1995, members of the Ku Klux Klan burned the church to the ground. It was one of a number of racially motivated attacks on black churches in the mid-1990s.

The church was rebuilt and then-President Bill Clinton commemorated its reopening.

The fires came about a week after nine black churchgoers were shot and killed in Charleston, South Carolina in what police called a racially motivated attack.

The tragedy has reignited debate about race relations and sparked a backlash against the Confederate flag.

US churches hit by fires in recent days

  1. College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee (22 June). Being treated as arson
  2. God's Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia (23 June). Being treated as arson
  3. Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Gibson County, Tennessee (23 June). Blamed on lightning strike
  4. Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina (24 June). Being treated as arson
  5. Glover Grove Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina (26 June). Cause undetermined
  6. The Greater Miracle Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahassee, Florida (26 June). Blamed on an electrical fault
  7. Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina (30 June). Cause undetermined

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