Yet another predominately black church went up in flames Tuesday night — this time a South Carolina house of worship that was burned to the ground by Ku Klux Klan members 20 years ago.Fire officials said they did not know whether the blaze was started intentionally at the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal, near the town of Greeleyville, or if it was the result of a heavy lightning storm that passed over the area around the same time.
No injuries were reported, but the fire took around two and a half hours to bring under control, the Clarendon County Fire Department said around midnight ET.
Its roof collapsed and Williamsburg County Fire Chief Randy Swinton told NBC News the 8,000-square-foot church had been gutted.
Greeleyville Mayor Jessie Parker said the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms investigators were on-site. “We’re hoping by morning that we’ll know something,” he said.
Hours before the fire broke out, the NAACP sent a series of tweets saying it was “alerting black churches to take necessary precautions” and urging the Department of Justice to “investigate a series of black church fires in the Southeast.”
The blaze was the latest in a series of fires at predominately black, Southern churches since June 17, when a white gunman killed nine black black worshipersat the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, about 50 miles south of Greeleyville.
The fires have fueled concerns about the potential for a new wave of racist violence since the Charleston shooting. The FBI has launched an investigation.
Asked whether Tuesday’s fire could be related to the other recent blazes, Mark Keel, chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, told the Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston: “Certainly, I think we all are concerned about those things.”
Mount Zion, founded more than 110 years ago, was burned to the ground June 20, 1995, by two members of the Ku Klux Klan. They pleased guilty the following year. That arson also came amid a rash of suspicious church fires.
President Bill Clinton attended the rededication of the rebuilt church a year later and said in a speech that “it was the church that saved the people until the civil rights revolution came along.”
He said it was “doubly troubling to people … who spent their entire lives working for equal opportunity among our people…to see our native South engulfed in a rash of church burnings.”