Feds Investigate Suspicious Fires at Historic Black Churches in Louisiana

Fires at three historically African American churches in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish are under investigation, authorities told reporters on Thursday. All the conflagrations are considered “suspicious.” The first fire took place on March 26 at the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, KTBS reported, and the second occurred Tuesday at the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas. The third blaze happened at the Opelousas-based Mount Pleasant Baptist Church on Thursday morning. The churches were vacant and no one was injured in the three blazes.

The fires at the 100-year-old churches are being treated as a crime scene, Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning said. It isn’t clear whether the fires were connected, he added, refusing to offer specific results from the investigation. "Investigating a fire is a very lengthy process," Browning said, according to KLFY. "It’s one of the most complicated and unconventional crime scenes you’ll ever enter because most of the evidence is burned away."

Other sources quoted Browning as saying that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the FBI are also involved in the investigation. The FBI is “extremely active right now,” and it relies on the help of 40 members of the Marshal’s office.

Although each fire occurred separately, the three landmark churches are linked through the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association, KLFY said; members of the group will provide assistance to the affected churches. Law enforcement has heightened security at other places of worship in the area.

"Having fellow pastors with sister churches of this district to offer the use of their facilities for needs for worship services, weddings, or even funerals. Because in spite of these buildings being lost, the ministry must continue," Freddie Jack, president of the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association, told KLFY.

Reverend Harry Richard of the Greater Union Baptist Church told newspaper The Acadiana Advocate that he wouldn’t want people to fear. "I don't know who's doing it or why they're doing it, but I don't want to be the one to inject race into it," he noted. The fires in Louisiana follow suspicious attacks at other Black institutions. The main office at Tennessee's Highlander Research and Education Center burned down on March 29, and important artifacts were reduced to ashes. A spray-painted symbol linked to the white power movement was found at the parking lot near the destroyed facility.

“While we do not know the names of the culprits, we know that the white power movement has been increasing and consolidating power across the South, across this nation, and globally,” Highlander said in an April 2 statement.

About the author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.