BLACK VOICES

The Charleston Shooting Was At Least The 91st Violent Attack On A Black Church Since 1956

06/23/2015 01:24 pm ET | Updated Jul 01, 2015
Joe Raedle via Getty Images

UPDATE: This piece has been updated to reflect recent church burnings that have occurred in the week since the shooting in Charleston.

When Dylann Roof allegedly opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina it was an act of terror of the kind that happens all too often in black houses of worship. Roof has been charged with shooting and killing nine people, including senior pastor of the church and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

Black communities in America have long used the church as a place to come together, to worship and to discuss social issues without fear of being targeted. But the ugly truth is that black churches have always been targets. White supremacists have sought to terrorize and destroy these institutions for as long as they've existed.

Although many church burnings, bombings and other hate crimes went unreported before and during the civil rights era, we know of at least 94 cases since the 1950s when black churches in America were the targets of what can only be described as domestic terrorism. (Our list contains relatively few incidents from the 1970s and 1980s, in part because exhaustive records from those years are hard to find. However, one report has found that there were 1,420 church fires in 1980 alone. There was a spike in violence against churches in the 1990s, which led Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act in 1996.)


Attacks on historically black churches, 1950s-present

Bombing Arson
Shooting Vandalism

1950s


Our list only dates back as far as 1956, but church bombings and burnings were happening well before then, and it also wasn't uncommon for pastors to be targeted at their homes. On Dec. 25, 1956, in Birmingham, Alabama, the home of civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was damaged in an explosion, along with the church next door.

Dec. 25, 1956
Birmingham, Alabama
April 28, 1957
Bessemer, Alabama
April 28, 1958
Birmingham, Alabama
June 29, 1958
Birmingham, Alabama

1960s

On Sept. 15, 1963, four black schoolgirls were killed by a bomb at Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church before Sunday morning service. It was the third explosion in the city in 11 days after federal legislation mandated the integration of Alabama schools. More than 8,000 people attended a public funeral held for three of the girls. The outrage over the bombing helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Jan. 16, 1962
Birmingham, Alabama
Jan. 16, 1962
Birmingham, Alabama
Jan. 16, 1962
Birmingham, Alabama
Dec. 14, 1962
Birmingham, Alabama
Aug. 10, 1963
Birmingham, Alabama
Sept. 15, 1963
Birmingham, Alabama
June 17, 1964
Longdale, Mississippi

1970s

In 1973, someone torched the Cartersville Baptist Church in Reston, Virginia, causing the pulpit and pews to fall into the basement. The church had been home to a congregation of 50 black people. Several years later, the Second Wilson Church, a meeting place for civil rights activists in Chester, South Carolina, was gutted when a flame spread from the windows to the ceiling shortly after a protest.

Summer 1973
Cartersville Baptist Church
Reston, Virginia

Dec. 16, 1979
Second Wilson Church
Chester, South Carolina

1980s

In 1980, police investigated a series of mysterious fires that damaged at least three black churches in New York City between April 23 and May 6.

Spring 1980
First Baptist Church
New York City
Spring 1980
St. John's Baptist Church
New York City
May 4, 1980
Bethel AME
New York City

1990s

In the mid-1990s, there was a spike in reported church fires. More than 30 black churches were burned in an 18-month period in 1995 and 1996, leading Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act.

Jan. 5, 1990
Louisville, Kentucky
February 1992
McDonough, Georgia
April 4, 1993
Smithdale, Mississippi
April 4, 1993
Pike County, Mississippi
February 1994
Sumter County, Alabama
February 1994
Sumter County, Alabama
February 1994
Sumter County, Alabama
February 19, 1994
Aiken County, South Carolina
Feb. 25, 1994
Aiken County, South Carolina
July 21, 1994
Madison, Georgia
July 21, 1994
Jones County, Georgia
August 1994
Clarkesville, Tennessee
Aug. 5, 1994
Clarkesville, Tennessee
Sept. 8, 1994
Buffalo, South Carolina
Dec. 30, 1994
Fruitland, Tennessee
Jan. 13, 1995
Crockett County, Tennessee
Jan. 13, 1995
Bells, Tennessee
Jan. 29, 1995
Columbia, Tennessee
Jan. 29, 1995
Mount Pleasant, Tennessee
Jan. 31, 1995
Bolivar, Tennessee
March 9, 1995
N. Augusta, South Carolina
March 24, 1995
Ruffin, South Carolina
May 21, 1995
Aiken, South Carolina
June 20, 1995
Greeleyville, South Carolina
June 21, 1995
Manning, South Carolina
Aug. 15, 1995
Lexington County, South Carolina
Oct. 14, 1995
Sun, Louisiana
Oct. 31, 1995
Raeford, North Carolina
Dec. 1, 1995
Aiken County, South Carolina
Dec. 13, 1995
Laurens, South Carolina
Dec. 22, 1995
Boligee, Alabama
Dec. 25, 1995
Hillsborough, North Carolina
Dec. 30, 1995
Gibson County, Tennessee
Jan. 6, 1996
Orrum, North Carolina
Jan. 8, 1996
Knoxville, Tennessee
Jan. 11, 1996
Green County, Alabama
Jan. 11, 1996
Green County, Alabama
Feb. 1, 1996
East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996
East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996
East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996
East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 1, 1996
East Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Feb. 21, 1996
Richmond, Virginia
Feb. 28, 1996
Tyler, Alabama
March 1996
Millen, Georgia
March 1996
Orangeburg, South Carolina
March 5, 1996
Hatley, Mississippi
March 20, 1996
Ruleville, Mississippi
March 21, 1996
Ruleville, Mississippi
March 30, 1996
Satartia, Mississippi
April 7, 1996
Lauderdale, Mississippi
April 11, 1996
Paincourtville, Louisiana
April 13, 1996
Barnwell, South Carolina
April 26, 1996
Effingham, South Carolina
May 14, 1996
Tigrett, Tennessee
May 23, 1996
Cerro Gordo, North Carolina
May 24, 1996
Lumberton, North Carolina
June 3, 1996
Greensboro, Alabama
June 7, 1996
Charlotte, North Carolina
June 9, 1996
Greenville, Texas
June 9, 1996
Greenville, Texas
June 12, 1996
Marianna, Florida
June 13, 1996
Enid, Oklahoma
June 17, 1996
Kossuth, Mississippi
June 17, 1996
Kossuth, Mississippi
June 17, 1996
Rocky Point, North Carolina
June 20, 1996
Portland, Oregon
June 24, 1996
Shreveport, Louisiana
May 17, 1996
Desha County, Arkansas

March 26, 1997
Henderson, Nevada
June 30, 1997
Little River, Alabama

2000-present

Terrorism against the black church is still an issue today. Five years before the mass shooting in Charleston, a man in Crane, Texas, burned down a Faith in Christ Church to gain status with a white supremacist gang. In the wake of the shooting at Mother Emanuel, at least seven black churches have been destroyed by fire. Three of the fires are being investigated as arson.

Jan. 12, 2004
Roanoke, Virginia
Nov. 5, 2005
Springfield, Massachusetts
Dec. 28, 2010
Crane, Texas
June 17, 2015
Charleston, South Carolina
June 21, 2015
Knoxville, Tennessee
June 23, 2015
Macon, Georgia
June 24, 2015
Charlotte, North Carolina

Source: Huffington Post research, news reports. Graphic by Hilary Fung. Icons by Edward Boatman and Syafiqa Fickle via The Noun Project.

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