On this dayAug 15, 1966

New Black Church Is Firebombed in All-White Providence, Rhode Island, Neighborhood

Philadelphia Daily News

Just after midnight on August 15, 1966, three firebombs were hurled through the windows of Holy Cross Church of God in Christ, a Black church in Providence, Rhode Island. The church had opened five weeks prior in an all-white part of the Federal Hill neighborhood.

The bombs shattered the church’s glass windows and lit several pews in the Sunday school classroom on fire. The perpetrators of the attack also vandalized a pillar by the church’s main entrance with a racial slur.

The bombing took place amidst a summer of virulent white backlash to the Black community’s efforts to integrate city housing and public schools.

At that time, Providence was one of the most racially segregated cities in the country, with nearly 80% of its Black population residing in South Providence. A 1965 University of Rhode Island study concluded that Providence was “as segregated as many cities of the Deep South.”

In Providence, as in much of the country at the time, many of the leaders of the campaign against segregation were prominent figures in the Black church. This made Black churches a target for white fear, anger, and violence.

Over 100 Black churches were burned, bombed, or vandalized during the civil rights era. While the majority of these racially motivated attacks took place in Southern cities such as Birmingham, where explosives placed by a white man killed four young Black girls at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963, Black churches outside the South were also targeted, in cities including Providence, Philadelphia, and Seattle.

To learn more about the violent white backlash to integration in Northern cities, read EJI’s report, Segregation in America.

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