A part of African American history has been lost. The Carswell Grove Baptist Church, in rural Jenkins County, Ga., burned to the ground this weekend. Investigators have ruled arson was the cause of the weekend blaze.
The church was built in 1919 on the ashes of the previous church, which was destroyed during one of the first white mob attacks that swept the United States during the “Red Summer” of 1919.
I just spoke with Palmer Lewis, a deacon who has been spearheading the dilapidated church’s restoration.
“I really do think it was a hate crime,” he said. “I can’t think of any other reason.”
The wood and brick building, on a remote country road, was boarded up and its doors were locked. But it was not guarded and not insured. Black and white civic groups in the area had been holding fundraisers to get the building repaired. A local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans planned a fish fry this December to help the preservation group apply for federal nonprofit status.
News reports of the fire have been posted here and here.
My book Red Summer begins with a chapter about the Carswell Grove riot that left several people dead. I have blogged about the church on this site, including here and here. I also have written about the spiritual importance of Carswell Grove and places like it for the Harvard Divinity Bulletin here.
Anyone with information about the fire should call the state arson hotline at 1.800.282.5804. A $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved.