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Arson Destroys 30th Black Church


Fire investigators used dogs Friday to try to sniff out clues to an arson fire that destroyed a 93-year-old wooden sanctuary, the 30th fire at a Southern black church in the last year and half.

Federal investigators on the scene stopped short of saying whether the fire Thursday night was related to the previous burnings.

“All I can tell you right now is we are working very hard to get to the bottom of this,” President Clinton told reporters in Washington.

He said he would discuss the topic in his weekly radio address today. Attorney General Janet Reno and other administration officials will meet Sunday at the Justice Department with civil rights leaders and some of the black ministers whose churches have been burned or desecrated.

Clinton was expected to announce that the Treasury would increase the number of agents assigned to the effort and to describe the investigation’s high-level coordination, administration officials said.

Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, Ala., filed a lawsuit Friday seeking damages from the Ku Klux Klan for the burning of the Macedonia Baptist Church in South Carolina last June 21.

The lawsuit names the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a group founded in Mount Holly, N.C., with chapters in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina.

Also named were Timothy Welch and Gary Cox, members of the KKK chapter who are in jail awaiting trial on burglary and arson charges, and have admitted their involvement in the fire, according to the South Carolina lawsuit.

The sanctuary in North Carolina, which dates to 1903, was used only to store old pews and other things on the grounds of the Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church. The mostly black 175-member congregation worships in a new building 100 yards away.

Investigators said the fire had been set. They did not say how.

Gov. Jim Hunt authorized a $10,000 reward for information.


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