Politics and Church Burnings
“Flames of Hate: Racism Blamed in Shock Wave of Church Burnings,” read the screaming headline in the New York Daily News this past spring. “The South Is Burning: A Rash of Torchings at Black Churches Has Resurrected the Ugly Specter of Racism,” chimed in the Toronto Star. Newsweek warned of “Terror in the Night Down South,” while USA Today reported that “Arson at Black Churches Echoes Bigotry of Past.” Throughout the media, among public figures, and indeed among most Americans who voiced an opinion on the subject, a consensus had formed by mid-June that burnings of black churches in the South had so escalated in number over the past two years as to reach the proportions of an epidemic—an “epidemic of terror,” in the words of Deval Patrick, the assistant attorney general in charge of civil rights at the Justice Department.
The cause, it was also agreed, was a terrifying resurgence of white racism. Mac Charles Jones, a board member of the Center for Democratic Rights (CDR), which played a crucial role in bringing the story of the burnings to public attention, initially described them as the handiwork of “a well-organized white-supremacist movement.” But when law-enforcement authorities failed to uncover evidence of a conspiracy so specific as that, more generic, more sweeping, and more frightening explanations began to circulate and take root.
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