Who Is Burning Down Black Churches?

On the night of June 30th, the historically black church of Mount Zion AME church was covered in flames in the small town of Greeleyville, S.C. Only two decades ago, this same church was set on fire by the KKK. The town of Greeleyville is only an hour north of Charleston, South Carolina, the city in the Black Belt South where white supremacist Dylan Roof murdered 9 African Americans at Emanuel AME church on the evening of June 17th, 2015. Since the horrific white supremacist terror attack at Emanuel AME, 6 African American churches have been on fire, with only 3 not including Mount Zion AME being investigated by the Feds as arson attempts and others still under investigation.

Church arson has been a historic response by racist white vigilantism in the South in response to their frustration of progress being made by the Black Liberation movement. It should be seen as no coincidence with the removal of Confederate flags from state properties throughout the South that church arsons are more than likely being perpetuated by white supremacists, looking to further terrorize Black America. We should also find zero solace in the Feds investigating this arson attempts given the Feds historic inability to protect property and institutions of African Americans. In fact, it's been the Feds inability, historically, to protect African Americans that has embolden white supremacists in the South to use acts of terror against the black community. However, using history as our guide, we should look to history as a means to solve our current problems which we are facing today.

The Deacons of Defense and Justice was formed on July 10, 1964, by a group of Black men in Jonesboro, Louisiana.

Led by Earnest “Chilly Willy” Thomas and Frederick Douglas Kirkpatrick, they where created to to protect civil rights workers against Ku Klux Klan violence, many of them having previously served in the armed forces in WWII. The Deacons taking up arms and protecting black churches, civil rights workers and the black community forced the federal government to intervene on behalf of the local black community. They formed chapters over the South dedicated to deterring racist violence. The national attention they garnered forced state and national politicians to start efforts to neutralize the Klan in the Black Belt South.

The Deacons believed in self defense against racist vigilantes who sought to inflict harm on black people and black institutions. Establishment organizations like the NAACP repudiated their strategy and tactics at the time. However, the Deacons provided protection for African Americans during a tense time of white supremacist hatred and violence being directed at Civil Rights organizers.

Deacons of Defense Artwork by @PeaceisHuman

It was the Deacons of Defense and Justice in the 1960s which laid down the foundation for militant organizations like the Black Panther Party and the broader Black Power movement to resist white supremacist violence with armed self defense.

It was Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture who said about the Deacons of Defense and Justice,

“Here is a group which realized that the ‘law’ and law enforcement agencies would not protect people, so they had to do it themselves...The Deacons and all other blacks who resort to self-defense represent a simple answer to a simple question: what man would not defend his family and home from attack?" 

If the United States law enforcement agencies aren't going to protect Black Americans, in the Black Belt South especially, then we must be capable of organizing a force that will. The Deacons of Defense and Justice weren't the first to advocate self defense against white terrorism but they were one of the first to build organization amongst themselves on that basis. Other black civil rights leaders and activists who preached non-violence as a political tactic believed in armed self defense such as Fannie Lou Hammer who confessed that she kept loaded weapons under her bed. Famous black leader Robert F. Williams turned his local NAACP branching the 1960s into a self defense armed unit until the national NAACP purged him from the organization due to his militant rhetoric in self defense of the black community. 

According to Annelieke Dirks in their book, "Between Threat and Reality: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Emergence of Armed Self-Defense in Clarksdale and Natchez, Mississippi, 1960‒1965", 

“Even Martin Luther King Jr.—the icon of nonviolence—employed armed bodyguards and had guns in his house during the early stages of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956. Glenn Smiley, an organizer of the strictly nonviolent and pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), observed during a house visit that the police did not allow King a weapon permit, but that ‘the place is an arsenal." 

While Federal authorities investigate those responsible for these attacks on black churches, it makes zero sense for the black community and those invested in protecting black churches to wait for the Feds protection. It's clear that hasn't been sufficient to deter white supremacist terror attacks. As was said earlier, if history tells us anything then we should look to organizations like the Deacons of Defense and Justice as inspiration to protect our communities from racist vigilante harm. Self defense is a right. The black community has a right to resist. In this country for black people to talk about defending ourselves, it is looked at as being too radical and extremist by the mainstream media and other traditional entities. However, when white Americans preach about self defense and the 2nd amendment, they are looked to as Patriots and true believers of the Constitution.

Well, to be blunt, I'm a patriot for Black America. I believe Black America should defend black institutions by any means necessary. This isn't radical, it's reality. If we want to illicit a response from those in power then we must assume, as former Black Panther Party leader H. Rap Brown said, the “revolutionary posture”.

History has shown this as a successful strategy. Too many times we've seen our elders, children and even churches taken away from us by white supremacy. We can’t continue to sit idly by waiting for some mythical salvation from the same Justice system who carries out perpetual injustices against our community daily.

It's time to wake up. White supremacy leaves us no other option.


- Michael Sampson