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Commission says church fires reveal growing 're-segregation'

grfk October 9, 1996
Web posted at: 9:00 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A warning from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission: racial tensions are on the increase in America, and so is segregation.

Those findings are the result of a study conducted in the wake of a rash of church burnings earlier this year. Of the church arsons that have been solved, 20 percent appear to have ties to racism, the commission says.


"The church burnings are a reflection of racial tensions in the South. It's part of a trend toward re-segregation."

-- Commission Southern Regional Director Bobby Doctor

The study called for local, state and national leaders to join with residents of all colors to find ways of easing racial and ethnic tensions.

Some of the church fires across the U.S. earlier this yearmovie icon

Greensboro, AL 24 sec./992K QuickTime movie
Rocky Point, NC 8 sec./352K QuickTime movie
Charlotte, NC 10.5 sec./450K QuickTime movie
Enid, OK 19 sec./800K QuickTime movie

"Racial tensions are a major problem in the states in which the (church) burnings took place," said Commission Chairman Mary Frances Berry. "Out of national sight and mind, racial segregation exists in schools and other public facilities reminiscent of Jim Crow days...," she said.


The commission cited as an example the de facto racial segregation that residents say persists in Greene County, Alabama. Some residents told the commission that banks, schools, swimming pools and even churches are segregated in that county. And in other areas, especially in the rural South, race relations are regressing as well.

In South Carolina, for example, Commission member Milton Kimpson said that race relations had been poor "for the last several years, 10 or more."

Beverly Divers White of the Foundation for the Mid-South, said that in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, "Racism continues to be a major impediment to the full development of the Delta."


And Alabama resident Annie M. Wells said she believes "we still have a significant race relations problem in the state."

The commission found that as the gulf between rich and poor in the South continues to widen, segregation is rising. "If you stop to look at the residential areas, particularly of the inner city of the cities to the deep South, they too are beginning to become re-segregated," Doctor said.

Commission leader Berry gave Southern law enforcement credit for generally working hard to bring church arsonists to justice.

But, she said, she was disappointed that political leaders haven't attacked the issue of worsening race relations with more vigor, and was disappointed that white people who came to help rebuild the churches were not local residents, but "people of conscience" such as Quakers, who came from other states.

Correspondent Skip Loescher contributed to this report.

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