Three historically Black churches were burned within a 10-day span, and authorities are working to determine the causes

By Char Adams
April 08, 2019 01:27 PM
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in OpelousasCredit: Google Maps
Credit: Google Maps

Federal investigators are looking into a series of “suspicious” fires at three historically Black churches in Louisiana after blazes broke out at the buildings all within a week.

Police said three churches in St. Landry Parish, near Lafayette, have caught fire since March 26, with the first at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. About a week later, on April 2 and 4, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas respectively caught fire, according to a statement from the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

“We’re very cognizant that there’s a problem, and there’s no coincidence that there are three fires,” State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning said during a press conference last week. “We believe these three fires are suspicious.”

Browning said no one was injured because the fires started in the middle of the night while the churches were vacant. CBS News reported that the FBI has joined the investigation.

Fire officials got the call about the fire at St. Mary Baptist around 3:40 a.m. last month, Fire Marshal spokeswoman Ashley Rodrigue said, reports the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. The fire burned holes through the church’s roof and left only most of its brick exterior standing the next day, the publication reported.

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Mt. Pleasant Baptist was more than 140 years old, according to Rev. Gerald Toussaint.

“My church has a lot of history. I don’t understand it. What could make a person do that to a church?” he told the Advertiser. “By the time I got back here, it was done. It burned hot and fast.”

Greater Union Baptist burned about 10 miles away last Tuesday from its roof to its pews, according to CBS. Pastor Harry Richard told the site his grandfather helped start the church more than 100 years ago.

“He left a legacy for me and I was trying to fulfill that to the best of my ability,” he said.

Authorities said the cause of the fires is unclear, and arson is a possibility.

“There certainly is a commonality, and whether it leads to a person, or persons, or groups, we just don’t know,” Browning said during the press conference.

The fires echo similar incidents when the burning of Black churches was used as an intimidation tactic during the civil rights era. Attacks on Black churches, using fire and other forms of violence, have long been used to intimidate the Black community and impede progress.