Late Wednesday, after a gunman murdered nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, many felt shock and anger that stoked memories of other mass shootings. Our violent nation has grieved for slain innocents at an elementary school in Newtown; a Tucson political rally; a movie theater in Aurora; a Virginia college campus; and other sites of mass killings, which are more common than many suppose. The possibility of falling victim to such attacks is a burden all Americans share.
And the attack on the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and its congregation also stoked memories of an additional burden borne by blacks: the hate crimes and terrorist attacks that have targeted their places of worship for generations, each incident signaling virulent animus toward the entire black community.
Most Americans learn in history class about the September 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama, when Ku Klux Klan terrorists killed four girls. “They died between the sacred walls of the church of God,” Reverend Martin Luther King said. “And they were discussing the eternal meaning of love.”
Black churches suffered at the hands of thugs and terrorists throughout the Civil Rights era, as they had for a century before, but such attacks aren’t a matter of remote history. As recently as the 1990s, a wave of fire-bombings hit black churches.