Clinton: 'Speak up' against racism


President visits burned church

June 12, 1996
Web posted at: 12:15 p.m. EDT

GREELEYVILLE, South Carolina (CNN) -- Asking all Americans to "speak up" (160K AIFF or WAV sound) against racism, President Clinton delivered a message of racial unity Wednesday at a rural black church built within one year after the small congregation's nearby 90-year-old church was burned down.

"Every house of worship in America must be a sacred place," Clinton said outside Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina, in an address carried live on CNN. (256K AIFF or WAV sound)

Earlier, the president visited the original church's burnt ruins, the result of arson. Set afire in June 1995, it is one of about 30 church fires that have occurred in Southern states over the past 18 months. (352K QuickTime movie)

new church

Greeleyville's new Mount Zion AME Church will be officially dedicated on Saturday, proving "the false idols of hatred and division did not win," Clinton said.

He listed the various federal agencies investigating the black church fires, adding: "I expect to get a report on this every week until the job is done, and I want you to help us in getting the job done."

Clinton criticized

Clinton's Republican critics say the president is indulging in election-year posturing.

"Clinton does not see a tragedy, he sees a photo op," House Majority Leader Dick Armey said Tuesday. "That's just the latest in a string of unfortunate comments by Dick Armey," responded White House spokesman Mike McCurry.

Among those joining the president Wednesday were Jesse Jackson, whose voter-registration efforts paid off for Clinton in 1992; Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-South Carolina; and Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, a veteran black lawmaker.

Conyers is sponsoring legislation in Congress that would make it easier to prosecute crimes against churches. South Carolina's Republican governor was invited, but "apparently the governor can't come," McCurry said.

Clinton presenting plaque

Forces of hatred ... cannot win"

"My daughter was right. The church didn't burn down. It's in our hearts," said the Rev. Terrence Mackey, Mount Zion's pastor. Clinton presented Mackey with a plaque dedicated to the congregation.

The inscription reads: "We must come together as one America to rebuild our churches, restore hope and show the forces of hatred they cannot win."

Congregation member Shirley Robinson said racism existed in Greeleyville, but "there are also good whites and good blacks who get along."

Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report

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