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Another Black SC Church Burns          07/01 06:11

   COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) --- Twenty years after the Ku Klux Klan burned it down, 
a South Carolina black church, north of Charleston, has caught fire again and 
authorities were trying to determine why.

   This time, the Tuesday night blaze came as storms moved through the area, 
casting uncertainty over whether the fire was intentionally set. No one was 
believed to be inside at the time.

   But the fire at the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church in 
Greeleyville broke out at a time when federal authorities are investigating 
conflagrations at several other predominantly black churches in other states, 
but so far the fires don't appear to be related.

   Greeleyville is a town of about 400 people around 50 miles north of 
Charleston, where a pastor and eight members of a historic black church were 
fatally shot June 17 in what authorities are investigating as a hate crime.

   Agents from the State Law Enforcement Division were on their way to the 
church before the fire was out, Division Chief Mark Keel said. But he said they 
will have to wait until the hot spots are extinguished before using dogs and 
other investigative tools to figure out what started it. He said investigators 
will be on the scene first thing Wednesday morning.

   "We do know they apparently had some strong storms," Keel said. "Talked to a 
guy who said they had a lot of lightning down there tonight. I don't know 
whether that had anything to do with it at all."

   The image of orange flames coming from the same church the KKK burned down 
in 1995 brought up painful memories, said Williamsburg County Councilman Eddie 
Woods Jr., who got out of bed to drive to the church after hearing about the 
fire.

   "That was a tough thing to see," Woods said. "It is hurting those people 
again. But we're going to rebuild. If this was someone, they need to know that 
hate won't stop us again," Woods said.

   All of the fires currently under investigation broke out days after the 
fatal shootings at Charleston's historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal 
Church. Dylann Storm Roof has been charged with nine counts of murder in the 
shootings, and the FBI is investigating possible links between the 21-year-old 
white man and a hate manifesto that showed up online along with photos of him.

   Mount Zion AME Church burned down on June 20, 1995. Two Ku Klux Klan members 
pleaded guilty to starting that fire and a second at another predominantly 
black church. They were each sentenced to nearly two decades in prison.

   Speaking at the church in 1996, President Bill Clinton implored people not 
to respond to what was a string of nearly three dozen church fires --- many of 
them racially motivated --- with the same hatred that drove the people who 
started the blazes. He gave the church a plaque to commemorate his visit, and 
noticed membership had grown four times over since the fire.

   "The American people are the most religious, church-going people of any 
great democracy," Clinton said. "We cannot let someone come into our democratic 
home, the home of our faith, and start torching our houses of worship."


(KA)


 
 
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