A fire has destroyed a black church in South Carolina that was rebuilt after it was burned down by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1995.
No one was injured. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but a source told the Associated Press it does not appear to have been intentionally set.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Firefighters Battled the Blaze for More than 2 Hours
A local official confirmed the fire to the Charleston Post and Courier, saying firefighters were battling the blaze Tuesday night at the Mackey Road church.
The fire was reported to be under control at about 11 p.m.
The official said the cause of the fire is not yet known. More than 50 firefighters responded, along with local, state and federal police.
Mark Keel, the chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, said federal agencies were responding to the fire.
Of a possible connection to other fires that have occurred at black churches since the Charleston shooting,” he said, “certainly, I think we all are concerned about those things.”
“We do know they apparently had some strong storms,” Keel told the Associated Press. “Talked to a guy who said they had a lot of lightning down there tonight. I don’t know whether that had anything to do with it at all.”
The ATF tweeted that its agents are at the scene of the fire.
“Anytime there is a house of worship involved in a fire, ATF is automatically assigned to look into the cause,” ATF spokesman Tom Mangan told CNN.
State Rep. Cezar McKnight, who was tweeting from the scene, told the Post and Courier, “It’s gone. They don’t know the cause yet, but I am hoping for the best. South Carolina has been through a lot the last two weeks and we’ve made the best of a terrible situation. I would hate for this to be something somebody did on purpose to try to poison the love and fellowship.”
2. President Bill Clinton Spoke at the Church’s Re-Dedication in 1996
The church was burned to the ground in 1995 by two men who claimed to be affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, according to a 1996 article from the Chicago Tribune.
The two men, Gary Cox, then 23, and Timothy Welch, then 24, admitted to setting the June 20, 1995 fire. The 1995 fire came during a rash of fires at black churches, with more than 70 reported between 1995 and 1996, according to the Tribune report. They were both sentenced to at least 18 years in federal prison.
They were also sentenced prison on state attempted manslaughter charges for stabbing a black man in Berkeley County, South Carolina four days before they set the church fire. Welch remains in state custody, while Cox is not listed as an inmate in either federal or state prison.
The church was rebuilt in 1996, with President Bill Clinton speaking at the re-dedication. The church had about 200 members in 1996.
Clinton gave the church a plaque that read, “We must come together as one America to rebuild our churches, restore hope, and show the forces of hatred they cannot win.”
In his speech, Clinton said, “I want to ask every citizen in America to say we are not going back, we are not slipping back to those dark days. Every time you hear somebody use race or religion as an instrument of division and hatred, speak up against it—every time you hear somebody do that. If you have the inclination, any evidence of anything you have seen or heard that somebody else might be planning to do something like this, tell the local authorities, and let’s stop this before it gets started. If you know anything about any of the unsolved cases, come help us solve them. This is wrong.”
Watch Clinton’s full speech below:
Twenty years after the first fire at the Greeleyville church and two weeks after the Charleston shooting, the KKK is still making its presence known in South Carolina. The hate group is planning a rally to call for the Confederate flag to remain flying at the statehouse in Columbia, according to Reuters.
“We’re standing up for the Confederacy,” James Spears, a leader of the local KKK group, told Reuters.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who has said the Confederate flag will come down, said the group is not welcome in her state.
3. Greeleyville is About 55 Miles Away From Charleston
Greeleyville, a town of about 375 people, is located in rural Williamsburg County in the eastern part of South Carolina, and is more than an hour away from Charleston, where the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church occurred.
Heavy storms did move through the area Tuesday night, local reporters said on Twitter.
Mark Keel, the chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, told the Charleston Post and Courier that lightning will be investigated as a possible cause of the fire.
4. The ATF is Investigating a String of Fires at Black Churches in the Wake of the Charleston Shooting
There have been at least six fires at black churches since the Charleston shooting on June 17, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times. But only two of those fires are suspected to be caused by an arson attack, the Times reports.
Those fires occurred June 24 at the Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and June 21 at God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.
The Washington Post reported that arson is suspected in three of the six fires, adding the College Hill Seventh Day Adventist in Knoxville, Tennessee to the list, where hay bales and a church van were burned on June 21.
There string of fires, whether arson or not, has raised people’s attention on social media, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says it is investigating to see if the fires were intentionally set.
“ATF has special agents and certified fire investigators from several field divisions investigating the fires to determine cause and origin,” the ATF said in a Facebook post on Tuesday, prior to the Greeleyville fire. “We are in the early stages of these investigations, but at this time we have no reason to believe these fires are racially motivated or related.”
The ATF said it is the lead agency investigating the fires at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church and God’s Power Church of Christ. It is also investigating fires at Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee, Greater Miracle Temple Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahasee, Florida, and Glover Grove Baptist Church in South Carolina. It also sent agents to the Mount Zion AME Church fire in Greeleyville.
#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches went viral on Twitter this week, as many accused the media of ignoring the fires.
According to Buzzfeed, there were fires reported in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
5. The NAACP Has Warned Black Churches to be on Alert
The NAACP has put black churches on alert and asked them to take “necessary precautions” as a result of the fires.
The Church Arson Prevention Act was passed in 1996 after the NAACP called for an interagency task force and the Justice Department to assume responsibility in cases of fires at black churches, the NAACP said on its Twitter account.
Read about the Mt Zion AME fire in Spanish at our sister site, AhoraMismo.com: