On this daySep 25, 1962

Black Church Destroyed by Fire in Georgia

Image | Washington Post

In the early hours of September 25, 1962, St. Matthew Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia, was burned to the ground. Though the church’s minister expressed doubt that the fire was intentionally set or racially motivated, St. Matthew – which had served its black congregation for nearly a decade – was the latest in a long list of black churches attacked in the United States. In the past few weeks in Georgia alone, four other black churches had been destroyed by fire.

During the Civil Rights era, black churches were well-established social and political spaces that served as organizational and meeting headquarters for African Americans fighting against racial segregation and oppression. In the course of that activism, black churches became the targets of racially-motivated violence. Churches in Montgomery and Birmingham in Alabama were sites of highly-publicized and, in some cases, deadly bombings that aimed to thwart civil rights efforts and terrorize the entire black community. The most infamous example of racist church destruction occurred on September 15, 1963, when the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was fire-bombed, killing four young black girls attending Sunday school services.

By the late 1990s, at least 80 black churches had been burned, firebombed, or vandalized. “In the African American community,” the Department of Justice noted in a 1998 report on church arson, “the church historically has been a primary community institution, so... it was decidedly disturbing to see the number of churches being burned.”

In November 2008, hours after the election of President Barack Obama, the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Massachusetts, was burned to the ground by three white men. Two of the men later admitted to dousing the partially-built church with gas and setting it aflame to denounce the election of the nation’s first black president.

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