Charleston Shooting, Burning of Black Churches Reignites Haunting Memories of America’s Dark Past

When Dylann Roof allegedly opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina it was an act of terror of the kind that happens all too often in black houses of worship. Roof has been charged with shooting and killing nine people, including senior pastor of the church and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

Black communities in America have long used the church as a place to come together, to worship and to discuss social issues without fear of being targeted. But the ugly truth is that black churches have always been targets. White supremacists have sought to terrorize and destroy these institutions for as long as they’ve existed.

Although many church burnings, bombings and other hate crimes went unreported before and during the civil rights era, we know of at least 94 cases since the 1950s when black churches in America were the targets of what can only be described as domestic terrorism. (The list below contains relatively few incidents from the 1970s and 1980s, in part because exhaustive records from those years are hard to find. However, one report has found that there were 1,420 church fires in 1980 alone. There was a spike in violence against churches in the 1990s, which led Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act in 1996.)

Attacks on Historically Black Churches, 1950s-Present

Bombing ArsonShooting Vandalism


Our list only dates back as far as 1956, but church bombings and burnings were happening well before then, and it also wasn’t uncommon for pastors to be targeted at their homes. On Dec. 25, 1956, in Birmingham, Alabama, the home of civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was damaged in an explosion, along with the church next door.

Dec. 25, 1956 Bethel Baptist Birmingham, Alabama
April 28, 1957 Allen Temple AME Church Bessemer, Alabama
April 28, 1958 Temple Beth-El Birmingham, Alabama
June 29, 1958 Bethel Baptist Birmingham, Alabama


On Sept. 15, 1963, four black schoolgirls were killed by a bomb at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church before Sunday morning service. It was the third explosion in the city in 11 days after federal legislation mandated the integration of Alabama schools. More than 8,000 people attended a public funeral held for three of the girls. The outrage over the bombing helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Jan. 16, 1962 New Bethel Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama
Jan. 16, 1962 St. Luke’s AME Zion Church Birmingham, Alabama
Jan. 16, 1962 Triumph Church and Kingdom of God and Christ Birmingham, Alabama
Dec. 14, 1962 Bethel Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama
Aug. 10, 1963 St. James United Methodist Church Birmingham, Alabama
Sept. 15, 1963 16th Street Baptist Church Birmingham, Alabama
June 17, 1964 Mt. Zion Church Longdale, Mississippi


In 1973, someone torched the Cartersville Baptist Church in Reston, Virginia, causing the pulpit and pews to fall into the basement. The church had been home to a congregation of 50 black people. Several years later, the Second Wilson Church, a meeting place for civil rights activists in Chester, South Carolina, was gutted when a flame spread from the windows to the ceiling shortly after a protest.

Summer 1973 Cartersville Baptist Church Reston, Virginia
Dec. 16, 1979 Second Wilson Church Chester, South Carolina


In 1980, police investigated a series of mysterious fires that damaged at least three black churches in New York City between April 23 and May 6.

Spring 1980 First Baptist Church New York City
Spring 1980 St. John’s Baptist Church New York City
May 4, 1980 Bethel AME New York City


In the mid-1990s, there was a spike in reported church fires. More than 30 black churches were burned in an 18-month period in 1995 and 1996, leading Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act.

Jan. 5, 1990 Apostolic Faith Assembly Church Louisville, Kentucky
February 1992 Rock Springs Baptist Church McDonough, Georgia
April 4, 1993 Springhill Freewill Baptist Church Smithdale, Mississippi
April 4, 1993 Rocky Point Missionary Baptist Pike County, Mississippi
February 1994 Bucks Chapel Church Sumter County, Alabama
February 1994 Pine Top Baptist Church Sumter County, Alabama
February 1994 Oak Grove Missionary Church Sumter County, Alabama
February 19, 1994 Rock Hill Baptist Church Aiken County, South Carolina
Feb. 25, 1994 Old Rosemary Baptist Church Aiken County, South Carolina
July 21, 1994 Springfield Baptist Church Madison, Georgia
July 21, 1994 Elam Baptist Church Jones County, Georgia
August 1994 Benevolent Lodge #210 Clarkesville, Tennessee
Aug. 5, 1994 Greater Missionary Baptist Church Clarkesville, Tennessee
Sept. 8, 1994 Rice Chapel Buffalo, South Carolina
Dec. 30, 1994 Salem Missionary Baptist Church Fruitland, Tennessee
Jan. 13, 1995 Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church Crockett County, Tennessee
Jan. 13, 1995 Johnson Grove Baptist Bells, Tennessee
Jan. 29, 1995 Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Columbia, Tennessee
Jan. 29, 1995 Canaan AME Mount Pleasant, Tennessee
Jan. 31, 1995 Mt. Calvary Baptist Church Bolivar, Tennessee
March 9, 1995 Hammond Grove Baptist Church N. Augusta, South Carolina
March 24, 1995 Sike Savannah Methodist Church Ruffin, South Carolina
May 21, 1995 Summer Grove Baptist Church Aiken, South Carolina
June 20, 1995 Mt. Zion AME Church Greeleyville, South Carolina
June 21, 1995 Macedonia Baptist Church Manning, South Carolina
Aug. 15, 1995 St. John’s Baptist Church Lexington County, South Carolina
Oct. 14, 1995 Zion Chapel AME Sun, Louisiana
Oct. 31, 1995 Mount Pisgah Baptist Church Raeford, North Carolina
Dec. 1, 1995 Mount Hill Missionary Baptist Church Aiken County, South Carolina
Dec. 13, 1995 Jesus Christ Holy Gospel Laurens, South Carolina
Dec. 22, 1995 Mt. Zion Baptist Church Boligee, Alabama
Dec. 25, 1995 Mount Moriah Baptist Church Hillsborough, North Carolina
Dec. 30, 1995 Salem Baptist Gibson County, Tennessee
Jan. 6, 1996 Ohovah AME Church Orrum, North Carolina
Jan. 8, 1996 Inner City Church Knoxville, Tennessee
Jan. 11, 1996 Little Mt. Zion Baptist Green County, Alabama
Jan. 11, 1996 Mount Zoar Baptist Green County, Alabama
Feb. 1, 1996 Thomas Chapel Benevolent Society East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 Cypress Grove Baptist East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 St. Paul’s Free Baptist East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 Sweet Home Baptist Church East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996 Thomas Chapel Benevolent Society East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 21, 1996 Glorious Church of God in Christ Richmond, Virginia
Feb. 28, 1996 New Liberty Baptist Church Tyler, Alabama
March 1996 Gays Hill Baptist Church Millen, Georgia
March 1996 Butler Chapel AME Orangeburg, South Carolina
March 5, 1996 St. Paul AME Church Hatley, Mississippi
March 20, 1996 New Mount Zion Baptist Ruleville, Mississippi
March 21, 1996 Mt. Zion Baptist Church Ruleville, Mississippi
March 30, 1996 El Bethel Satartia, Mississippi
April 7, 1996 St. Paul’s Primitive Church Lauderdale, Mississippi
April 11, 1996 St. Charles Baptist Paincourtville, Louisiana
April 13, 1996 Rosemary Baptist Church Barnwell, South Carolina
April 26, 1996 Effingham Baptist Effingham, South Carolina
May 14, 1996 Mount Pleasant Baptist Tigrett, Tennessee
May 23, 1996 Mount Tabor Baptist Cerro Gordo, North Carolina
May 24, 1996 Pleasant Hill Baptist Lumberton, North Carolina
June 3, 1996 Rising Star Baptist Greensboro, Alabama
June 7, 1996 Matthews Murkland Presbyterian Church Charlotte, North Carolina
June 9, 1996 New Light House of Prayer Greenville, Texas
June 9, 1996 The Church of the Living God Greenville, Texas
June 12, 1996 Evangelist Temple Marianna, Florida
June 13, 1996 First Missionary Baptist Church Enid, Oklahoma
June 17, 1996 Central Grove Missionary Baptist Church Kossuth, Mississippi
June 17, 1996 Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church Kossuth, Mississippi
June 17, 1996 Hills Chapel Baptist Church Rocky Point, North Carolina
June 20, 1996 Immanuel Christian Fellowship Portland, Oregon
June 24, 1996 New Birth Temple Shreveport, Louisiana
May 17, 1996 Three African-American churches Desha County, Arkansas
March 26, 1997 Church of Christ Henderson, Nevada
June 30, 1997 St. Joe Baptist Church Little River, Alabama


Terrorism against the black church is still an issue today. Five years before the mass shooting in Charleston, a man in Crane, Texas, burned down a Faith in Christ Church to gain status with a white supremacist gang. In the wake of the shooting at Mother Emanuel, at least seven black churches have been destroyed by fire. Three of the fires are being investigated as arson.

Jan. 12, 2004 Mount Moriah Baptist Church Roanoke, Virginia
Nov. 5, 2005 Macedonia Church of God in Christ Springfield, Massachusetts
Dec. 28, 2010 Faith in Christ Church Crane, Texas
June 17, 2015 Emanuel AME Church Charleston, South Carolina
June 21, 2015 College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Knoxville, Tennessee
June 23, 2015 God’s Power Church of Christ Macon, Georgia
June 24, 2015 Briar Creek Road Baptist Church Charlotte, North Carolina


Reprint: The Charleston Shooting Was At Least The 91st Violent Attack On A Black Church Since 1956 -By Taryn Finley | HuffPost

The President Obama Honors the Life of Reverend Clementa Pinckney and 8 Others (Video)

Black Churches are Burning Again in America -By Emma Green | The Atlantic

Photo Credit: Madeleine Schimming, age 7, pays tribute to the 9 “angels” who were killed by a gunman during a Bible story session at the historic Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015.

The nine angels were Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Cynthia Hurd, Ethel Lance, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywaza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Susie Jackson, and Rev. and State Senator Clementa Pinckney.

Click here to learn how you can help or make a donation to Emanuel AME.


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