Over the weekend, the hasthag #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches popped up on Twitter following a string of church fires throughout the South. Since its inception, it’s been used more than 170,000 times. To put that surge of conversation in perspective, over the past seven days, “Charleston” has been used on Twitter 284,000 times and “Confederate flag” nearly 600,000 times.
A seventh church fire in Greeleyville, South Carolina, occurred Tuesday night at a church that was once burned down by the Ku Klux Klan in 1995. Authorities say that fire was not arson, but have not yet determined a cause. One of the fires was linked to an electrical mishap, and the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the remaining, three of which are suspected of arson. As of right now, none of these fires have been declared hate crimes.
NAACP State Conferences and units are now alerting black churches to take necessary precautions. #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches
— NAACP (@NAACP) June 30, 2015
The fires come a week after 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people, including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The crime was labeled as one of hate, with racism at its root. Many believe these church burnings are too timely not be tied to that same racial hatred. A motive has not been determined.
— TC (@tchopstl_) July 1, 2015
We know #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, it is the Jim Crow that has always been afraid of the strength of our community & of our enduring love.
— deray mckesson (@deray) June 30, 2015
In his eulogy for Rev. Pinckney, President Barack Obama called black churches the center for black culture.
“Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah,” rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.”
In the 1960s, rampant church burnings were attempts to intimidate members and quell civil rights progress. When a church burns more than 50 years after Jim Crow laws ruled the South, it’s no surprise that outrage, questions and skepticism would ensue.