Racism Blamed in Shock Wave of Church Burnings, read the screaming headline in the New York Daily News. The South is Burning: A Rash of Torching at Black Churches Has Resurrected the Ugly Specter of Racism, chimed in the Toronto Star. Newsweek warned of Terror in the Night Down South, While USA Today reported that Arson at Black Churches Echoes Bigotry of Past.(Fumento 1) In the summer of 1996, the U.S. media widely reported a surge in white racist burnings of black churches in the American South. It all started the Center for Democratic Renewal announced a huge increase in arsons against black churches by whites. Black churches were burning at the rate of one per week, mostly due to arson (Swett 2). The media jumped on the story.
The racial church burnings soon became issues of Politicians. President Bill Clinton was running for re-election and desperately needed the votes of the black communities. Clinton made the discrimination issue a priority. Clinton held a White House summit on the issue and assigned the FBI to investigate. Eventually, he passed a law authorizing 12 million dollars to fight arsons of churches. During a passionate speech President Clinton shared that he had, vivid and painful memories of black churches being burned in my own state when I was a child. Ironically, historians and civil rights activists in Arkansas could find no mention of any church arsons in the state during his childhood. Furthermore, Al Gore was quoted For a very large number of the burnings, what you will find ultimately, I predict, is that a common thread of underlying racism is present.(Elven 2)
The church burnings had all the makings of a great story: mystery, race, religion and an eerie echo of the past.(Heyboer 1). Michael Fumento a journalist for the Wall Street Journal wrote, It appears that the public may be finally catching on that the black church burning epidemic of 1996 is actually one of the biggest hoaxes to come along in years. In fact, independent investigations by several reporters, including those at the Associated press, The New Yorker and USA Today have revealed no plague and little evidence of racism. Michael Kelly, reported that fires at churches both white and black had sharply decreased since 1980, and that the overall number in 1994 was the lowest in fifteen years. Kelly explains the rise in church burnings was impart because of copycat arsons who may have been racist but who also had been inspired by the media attention given to the fires.
The Center for Democratic Renewal or CDR was one of the main sources for national hysteria. The CDR is a left-wing political organization whose main goal is to promote that white-against-black terrorism is on the rise (Swett 1). CDR had alleged that there had been 90 arson attacks against black churches in nine Southern states and every culprit was white. Fumento Contacted officials in various Southern states, and compared those to CDRs list. He found that CDR had systematically failed to count fires set by blacks in black churches, had labeled as arson a number of fires which were not causes by arsons at all. The CDR Created this false report to cause attention to the media. CDR was having trouble raising funds but after the frenzy the CDR had a bank account of 9 million. For some time they were collecting 100,000 dollars a day from concerned citizens. They received such a surplus that they could build each church 3 times over (Fumento 3).
CDR manipulated the unsuspecting media to cause hysteria across the country for the sole purpose of raising money for their cause.
However their cause was to eliminate discrimination. I think it is ironic that CPRs actions created the situation they were ultimately trying to omit. The church burning incident in 96 gives us all another reason to question everything.