June 18, 1996 in Nation/World

Fires Rip Through Four More Southern Churches

Associated Press

Two black churches were destroyed by fire late Monday in this northeast Mississippi community, the latest in a series of blazes at Southern churches.

It was not immediately clear whether arson was involved.

The Mount Pleasant Baptist Church and Central Grove Church were deserted when the fires were reported about 9:30 p.m., said an Alcorn County sheriff’s spokeswoman.

Volunteer fire departments had both fires under control by midnight and an investigation was begun immediately to determine whether the fires were set.

Central Grove was the larger of the two churches; nearby Mount Pleasant was more than 100 years old.

President Clinton has mobilized federal agencies to help local authorities in their investigations of the dozens of fires at black churches in the last 18 months.

Earlier Monday, morning fires destroyed a rural black church in Rocky Point, N.C., and heavily damaged the former sanctuary of a mostly white congregation in Georgia.

“This has got to stop,” President Clinton said in Washington. “This tears at the very heart of what it means to be an American.”

State and federal investigators brought in specialists and a trained dog to determine if the blaze at Hills Chapel Baptist Church in Rocky Point was arson. There wasn’t enough information yet to label the fire suspicious, but it fit the pattern of many of the other fires, said Mark Logan, agent-in-charge of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

“With a lot of the churches, it’s in a rural area, set apart,” Logan said.

The Hills Chapel fire began about 1:20 a.m. Flames destroyed most of the building, leaving only parts of two side walls upright and leveling a dining hall.

The church had not received any threats, said the Rev. W.T. Howard Sr.

“We don’t have a racial problem here,” said Janice B. Hand of Burgaw, the church’s Sunday school secretary.

Arson dogs also were used Monday in Pine Lake, Ga., 10 miles east of Atlanta, where fire gutted a former sanctuary of Pine Lake Baptist Church. Pine Lake Baptist’s congregation is mostly white, with about a dozen blacks out of 1,000 members.

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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