An 111-year-old predominately black church in Greenville, Mississippi, was set on fire Tuesday night, with “Vote Trump” scrawled in silver paint along the church’s outer wall. Greenville fire chief Ruben Brown Sr. said the blaze was intentionally set and Greenville police chief Delando Wilson said it’s being investigated as a hate crime.
“We feel that the quote on the church is intimidating,” Wilson said. “It tries to push your beliefs on someone else, and this is a predominantly black church and no one has a right to try to influence the way someone votes in this election.”
However, Mississippi’s top election official, Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, said people shouldn’t jump to conclusions about the political and racial motivations of the crime alleging that initial reports suggest “this is not of a political nature.”
Burning of black churches have a long, tragic and often politically motivated legacy in American history (click here for a partial list from the past 50 years). While many of these incidents are often associated with the 1960s, just last year eight black churches in the South were set on fire in the span of 10 days.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons called the fire a “hateful and cowardly act,” and blamed the rhetoric of presidential candidate Donald Trump for creating a culture of racial violence.
“We know what the black church means to the black community and the symbolism of the black church,” Simmons, the first black mayor of a Mississippi Delta city, said. “We want folks to go to the polls and not feel fearful, to not feel intimidated and to not feel they have to stay home because some person is engulfed in hate. This is a direct assault on black folks. It goes to the heart of intimidating folks.”