Church Fires in Rankin County

On June 21, 1964, a Molotov cocktail exploded in the basement of Sweet Rest Church of Christ’s Holiness in Rankin County. A fire broke out, but there were only minor damages. On July 19th, 1964 both St. Matthew’s Negro Baptist Church and the Grill Chapel Methodist Church were burned. On July 31, 1964, just miles away from Sweet Rest, Pleasant Grove Church was burned to the ground. The fire department came but left before the fire was put out, stating that they had been called too late. Later a butane tank was found buried next to the church, and the FBI then started to investigate. On August 13th, 1964, St. Matthew’s Negro Baptist Church was again burned, this time successfully to the ground. A fire department spokesman told officials that the department was unable to put out the fire. October 30th, 1964, St. James Negro Methodist Church was burned down, adding up to five different all-black churches being burned. According to a Sovereignty Commission report, general suspicion for the culprits of the burnings was on the local branch of the American for the Preservation of the White Race (APWR), a local group associated with the Ku Klux Klan.

Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, Mississippi Department of Archives & History