No Leads For 3 Black Churches Burned in 10 Days in Louisiana Parish
Officials are still struggling to find any links or leads between three black churches that burned in one week in the same Louisiana Parish.
In a south Louisiana parish, three predominantly black churches have burned in just a week and a half. The first fire occurred on March 26 in St. Landry Parish, a rural community north of Lafayette. The succeeding fires happened on April 2 and April 4.
Another fire that officials called a “small blaze” happened on March 31 in Caddo Parish at the Vivian United Pentecostal Church, a primarily white church about three hours north. Officials say the blaze was intentionally set.
Although no injuries or deaths have been reported, the fires caused considerable damage to the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, as well as Mount Pleasant Baptist Church and the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas.
Investigation Underway to See Whether Fires Are Related
According to officials, there have been “suspicious elements” in each case. The possibilities of arson and relation among the fires have not been ruled out.
Louisiana Fire Marshal H. Browning said in a statement, “There is clearly something happening in this community. That is why it is imperative that the citizens of this community be part of our effort to figure out what it is.”
The Rev. Gerald Toussaint, pastor at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, said that the relationship between the black and white residents of St. Landry Parish is “generally good.” The population in the rural parish is 41 percent black and 56 percent white.
“I’m trying to find out who did it, why they did it, did it have anything to do with me,” said Toussaint in a statement. “I don’t know none of this.”
Aware of the recent fires at Greater Union Baptist Church and St. Mary Baptist Church, Toussaint did not wish to speculate, fearing that doing so might provoke copycat crimes or anger possible arsonists.
“There certainly is a commonality, and whether that leads to a person or persons or groups, we just don’t know,” Browning said in a news conference.
Black Churches Have Been Targets for Attacks Since the Civil Rights Era
African-American churches have been targeted for arson, armed assault and even bombing since the 1950s. The New York Times reported on violence at churches in recent years which included the burning of Cypress Grove Baptist Church, St. Paul’s Free Baptist Church, and Thomas Chapel Benevolent Society, all predominantly black churches in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana. All three were burned on the same day.
In 2006, nine churches in Alabama – some were primarily black, and others were primarily white – were burned by three college students. The arsons began as a joke, and soon got out of control, according to officials.
In 2015, nine people attending a Bible study at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, were shot and killed by a white supremacist.
Just last month, a black member of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, Miss., pleaded guilty to burning his church in 2016. According to the New York Times report, the words “Vote Trump” had been spray-painted on the church to make the crime appear to be politically motivated.
Law Enforcement Will Do ‘Whatever It Takes’ to Prevent Other Churches from Burning
Sheriff Bobby Guidroz of St. Landry Parish said at a news conference on April 4 that police officers would do “whatever it takes” to keep both churches and churchgoers safe from harm.
“We’re doing everything we can, collectively, to solve this crime,” Guidroz said at the conference.
Florence Milburn, a member of the Greater Union Baptist Church, said that plans for rebuilding are already in progress, and until the church is rebuilt, members will gather in a loaned building for worship.
“Why they did it, what motive, we’re at a loss. So whether or not we are told who did it, or why they did it, it doesn’t bring our church back, and all the memories that we had. It’s like losing a family member, or losing a family home,” Milburn told NPR. “We have to rebuild God’s church.”