As details regarding the Charleston, SC church shooting continue to unfold, the nation is grappling yet again with what appears to be a violent hate crime aimed against people of color. What occurred Wednesday night at the Emanuel AME Church is another in a long history of terrorism against the Black Church, a cowardly tactic which, unfortunately, reminds us all of the times that were.
Perhaps the most known act of this sort is the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. on September 15, 1963. Ku Klux Klan members enacted the bombing, which killed four young Black girls. But there have been several such hate crimes and terrorist acts of a related sort dating back for generations.
NewsOne will examine a handful of the reported terrorist acts against Black churches below.
The Beginning Of “Bombingham”
Since the ’40s, Whites in Birmingham, Ala. used violent fear tactics to push out incoming Black residents. Several church leaders’ homes were blasted by dynamite or set ablaze. The incidents were so frequent, the town earned the nickname “Bombingham.” The White racist terrorists aimed their efforts at the homes of Black religious leaders, but then turned their focus on churches, as they were hubs of civil rights activism and community building.
On Christmas Day, 1956, Bethel Baptist Church and the home of late Civil Rights icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth were bombed. Bethel Baptist was nearly bombed again in 1958, but two church guards carried the makeshift paint can bomb away as it was still lit.
On April 28, 1957, Allen Temple AME Church and Temple Beth-El were bombed in separate incidents.
On August 10, 1963, a gasoline fire destroyed the James United Methodist Church.
Similar Attacks Occurred Throughout The South
The Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple bombing in 1958 is a bit unique, as it wasn’t a Black church. However, Rabbi Jacob Rothschild was an ally of Martin Luther King Jr. and an early advocate for civil rights and racial equality. Unlike many similar temples, Rothschild’s congregation supported the idea of racial harmony, thus sparking the attention of Nazi hate groups.
There was also the 1959 arson of a church in Roscoe, Georgia that was racially motivated. A 1963 church bombing in Pine Bluff, Ark. was another case that made small waves. The following year, a church in Vicksburg, Miss. was attacked after racists discovered it was a headquarters to register Black voters.
More attacks took place in Mississippi in the town of Meridian. The number of incidents were numerous, but some stood out. In January 1968, the zenith of the Civil Rights Movement to some, a pair of churches in the town was bombed. The following month, the New Hope Baptist Church was burned because of its activism within the Black community. The next day, the parsonage of the Newell Chapel Methodist Church was burned as well.
Violence Against The Church In Recent Times
According to a University of Maryland law paper, churches in Amite and Pike Counties in Mississippi were burned in April 1993 to coincide with the assassination of Rev. King. Curiously enough, two Black churches were burned on June 17, 1996 in the town of Kossuth. Authorities at the time ruled that arson was at the root and notes a perhaps coincidental trend. June 17 was when gunman Dylann Roof entered Emanuel AME in South Carolina.
As noted in reports, Emanuel AME was co-founded by Denmark Vesey, a slave who attempted to lead an armed revolt in 1822 that was upended reportedly on June 17 of that year by slaves who told their masters. While there isn’t any evidence to suggest the Charleston church shooting was connected to Vesey’s revolt, it might raise some concerns.
The brash bombings of the ’50s and ’60s have been replaced by arson, vandalism, trashing of church grounds, and other nuisance crimes. The Charleston church shooting, however, was the boldest example of a hate-motivated act in some time and serves as a chilling reminder we are not removed from the divisive days of old.