An Empirical Examination of the 1990's Church Burning Epidemic

Holly E. Ventura, University of South Carolina
J. Mitchell Miller, University of South Carolina
Christopher L. Gibson, University of South Florida
Christopher J. Schreck, Illinois State University

The American South witnessed an increase in church burnings during the mid-1990s that was characterized by the national media as a function of resurgent racism. Official response included the creation of task forces, hate crime legislation and considerable funding for victim services and empowerment programs. Despite the scope of attention and resources allocated to the burnings, no empirial analysis of the phenomenon has yet been conducted. This study employs a social constuctionist framework to examine claims attributing the burnings to a racist conspiracy, while controlling for structural properties in a sample of churches burned in South Carolina (75) between 1990-2000. Results of a logit analysis indicated that only poverty and population density had a significant influence on the arsons. Implications of these findings are considered relative to the interests of stakeholders and race relations.

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Updated 05/20/2006