July 01, 2015
Law enforcement authorities were investigating an overnight fire at an African-American church in South Carolina that 20 years ago was burned down by the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan, local officials said on Wednesday, adding that the cause of the blaze was not yet known.
The blaze at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in the city of Greeleyville was the latest in a rash of fires at black churches across the U.S. South, at least two of which have been determined by authorities to have been deliberately set. The fires have prompted heavy online speculation and a hashtag #whoisburningblackchurches.
No one was injured, officials told reporters at a news conference, but they said the church building was a total loss.
The Greeleyville fire came about two weeks after nine people, all of them black, were shot dead inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, 65 miles (105 km) away, with police arresting a white man linked to racist views.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it was on the scene of the church fire.
Mark Keel, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, told the Post and Courier newspaper that the cause of the blaze could not be determined until the flames were out.
He told the newspaper that while lightning from a recent storm system in the area may have sparked the blaze, he was troubled by the recent spate of church fires.
"Certainly, I think we all are concerned about those things," he told the newspaper.
The Clarendon County Fire Department posted on Twitter flames roaring inside the church, behind an exterior wall adorned with a cross.
CCFD on scene mutual aide to Williamsburg County for working fire at Mt. Zion AME Church. Fire now under control. pic.twitter.com/Wt13RLGQDo— Clarendon County FD (@clarendonfire) July 1, 2015
The blaze brought back painful memories of the fire set in the 1990s, said Greeleyville Mayor Jessie Parker.
"To see the church in flames again, it just, it gives you ill feeling," Parker said at the news conference. "We don't know what happened, what started the fire."
Mark Keel, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, told the Post and Courier newspaper that while lightning from a recent storm system in the area may have sparked the blaze, he was troubled by the recent spate of church fires.
Federal investigators have said they have so far found no links among the fires at the predominantly black churches across the South since the shooting, and none have been labeled hate crimes.
Tuesday's fire was at least the seventh such blaze since the Charleston shooting, a crime that underscored the issue of race relations in America.
Former President Bill Clinton spoke at the dedication of the Mount Zion church in June 1996, a year after the arson. It was one of about 670 arsons, bombings or attempted bombings at mostly African-American churches in the 1990s.
"You think about what happened 90 years ago ... people might have expected things like a church bombing. That was the time of Jim Crow, and there were evening lynchings in the South," Clinton said then. "We know that we're not going back to those dark days, but we are now reminded that our job is not done."
Check back for more on this developing story.