The Fire Last Time: The 1990s wave of 145 church burnings — Map

The World
Updated on
Clinton outside Salem Baptist Church

Who Is Burning Black Churches? This week's hashtag is, unfortunately, not asking a new question.

The flaming destruction Tuesday of Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina inspired imagery on social media from the civil rights movement.

But it was long past the 1960s when KKK members torched the same Mount Zion. The church was among 145 black churches burned from 1995 to 1996, in a wave of arson attacks that prompted Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act. The measure increased the sentence for arson at a house of worship to a maxiumum of 20 years, and then-President Bill Clinton's created the National Church Arson Task Force.

We looked at the Church Arson Task Force 2000 Report to see when and where the fires were set. We mapped out every instance of arson at a predominantly black church investigated by the task force between 1995 and 1996:

Of the 145 fires at African-American houses of worship that were investigated from 1995-99, the task force reported that whites made up 63 percent of those arrested. Thirty-six percent were African-American, and under 1 percent were Hispanic. In looking at these same arrests in the South alone, more than two-thirds of arsonists at African-American churches were white and 29 percent were African American.

At its height in 1995-96, arson occurred once about every five days at an African-American church. The number of church arsons fell 82 percent from 1980 to 2002, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Authorities are still investigating most of the seven recent fires in the South, of which at least three have been ruled as arson. Here's where those fires occurred.

Are you with The World?

The story you just read is available to read for free because thousands of listeners and readers like you generously support our nonprofit newsroom. Every day, the reporters and producers at The World are hard at work bringing you human-centered news from across the globe. But we can’t do it without you: We need your support to ensure we can continue this work for another year.

When you make a gift of $10 or more a month, we’ll invite you to a virtual behind-the-scenes tour of our newsroom to thank you for being with The World.