The Burning of Black Churches 


Following the tragic mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a string of fires at black churches began. These burnings mostly occurred in the South and prompted the FBI to investigate their causes. 

This Silk aims to not only visualize the recent burning of black churches, but also visualize the history of such burnings from 1995 to the present through looking at data from a variety of sources, including the MashableMother Jonesthe New York Times, the National Church Arson Task Force (NCATF)the Southern Poverty Law Center, and USA Today. This Silk only includes arson attack data of black churches and affiliated property and does not include other forms of attacks, such as vandalism. 

Source: AP. 

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. after a bombing in 1963 that killed four black girls.

Burning of Black Churches in 2015

Above is a map of the most recent burnings and attacks against black churches in 2015. All of these burnings occurred in the South and in the aftermath of the mass shooting at the Emmanuel AME Church. According to USA Today, three of these fires were attributed to arson. 

The fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal in South Carolina is still being investigated; however, its burning triggered the painful memories of 1995—when the church was burned to the ground by the KKK. 

As Rev. Anthony Evans, the president of the National Black Church Initiative, said: “This is a systematic attack against the black church.”

Location of Black Churches Burnt (1995-2015)

The burning of predominately black churches in the United States, graphed by location. (1995-2015)

Source: NCATF.

The burning of black churches has been an issue in the United States as early as the 19th century. In 1822, for example, the Emanuel AME Church was burned down. This map, which shows the burning of black churches from 1995-present, demonstrates that the year 1990s, 1996 in particular, were tragic years for attacks against the black church.

According to the National Church Arson Task Force (NAFTA), between 1995 - 2000, hundreds of attacks against houses of worship were ruled as arson; of those, an estimated 32.8% were African American houses of worship. Within the same period, nearly 44% of attacks against African American houses of worship were in the South. The NAFTA also found that 62.5% of arsonists of African American houses of worship were caucasian, the majority of which were male.

By the 2000s, the burning of black churches ceased significantly and resulted in two attacks and one burning between 2005-2014. In mid-2015, the burning of black churches increased once again––resulting in the burning of seven churches in only a one week period. 

Percentage of Total Number of Black Churches Burnt (1995-2015)

Percentage of total predominately black churches burnt, graphed by year. (1995-2015)

Source: NCATF.





The year 1996 represents nearly 39.2% of burnings of black churches that occurred since 1995, followed by 1997 (16.7%) and 1998 (13.7%). 

Total Number of Black Churches Burnt (1995-2015)

Total number of predominately black churches burnt. (1995-2015)

Source: NCATF.




As mentioned earlier, the year 1996 remains the deadliest year for the burning of black churches. More churches were burned in 1996 than in the years between 1997-1999. The number of attacks against black churches decreased after 2000 and increased, once again, in 2015. 

Top-5 states where predominately black churches were attacked. (1995-2015) 

Source: NCATF.



Over 300 churches have completely or partially burnt between 1995-2015. This chart represents the top-5 states during that period where black churches were burnt. Texas represents the majority of burnings (35), followed by South Carolina (30), Alabama (27), North Carolina (23), and Georgia (21)––all southern states.

Black Churches Burning in 2015: In Pictures

Source: AP. 

A destroyed piano is part of the charred remains of Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, South Carolina.

Source: BBC. 

People pray near the burnt ruins of the Mt Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina. Mt Zion was the seventh black church to burn in the southern US in less than two weeks.

Source: AP. 

Glover Grove Baptist Church Pastor Bobby Jones stands outside the church in Warrenville, South Carolina.

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Explore attacks, by year of burning

Source: NCATF.

Explore attacks, by state