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Arson at black churches revives old fears

January 19, 1996
Web posted at: 11:35 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Brian Cabell

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- A troubling trend in the South is causing many people to fear racial hatred is rising as black churches again become targets of arson.

Police are looking for suspects and clues to a possible conspiracy, but so far there have been no arrests and few leads.

The Inner City Church in Knoxville was burned to the ground last week. The arsonist put a lot of time and effort into the crime, according to one investigator.

Church members

"We found accelerants. We found numerous Molotov cocktails. We found gunpowder. We found gasoline cans and numerous other items of evidence at the scene," said Dick Garner of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

No person or group has yet claimed responsibility for the fire, but a few days after the fire, a couple of local businesses received leaflets saying, "1996 shall be the year of white triumph and justice for the master supreme race."

The leaflets also claimed that integrated communities, schools and churches would no longer be tolerated. The 400- member Inner City Church is predominately black but is integrated.

"You can't wait until you get to heaven to come together ... We must come together now," the Rev. David Upton told his displaced congregation which has been meeting at a high school while raising funds to rebuild their church.

Reggie White

Already more than $100,000 has poured in, thanks in part to the celebrity of their associate minister, professional football star Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers.

At least four other predominantly black churches were torched last year in Tennessee. In neighboring Alabama, three small black churches have been targets of arson in the last several weeks.

The arsons appear to be happening with greater frequency, prompting talk of a possible conspiracy. Klanwatch, a racial watchdog group, reported 17 church burnings in the South during the last five years.

"Compare that to the numbers in the last year which have been nine, it's a pretty good indicator that there may very well be some kind of orchestrated effort," said Joe Roy of Klanwatch.

Whether their church fire was part of an orchestrated effort, Inner City members don't know. What they do believe is that someone was opposed to their work in the church and community.

"It's just the devil's job. He has his job. We just gotta realize he has his job,' said one church member.

"Our God is greater than those little people with little sick minds," said another.

Sick minds, apparently, that meticulously prepared and ignited a pre-dawn fire at a house of worship.



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