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Interracial Church Members Promise To Rebuild After Arson

September 9, 1988

MACON, Miss. (AP) _ A blaze that heavily damaged a small, interracial church in a predominantly white neighborhood was apparently caused by arson, officials said.

″What we lost was more than a house,″ Levi Hatcher, who was among the founders of the Fellowship of Hope Church, said Thursday. ″We also lost everything we put into it.″

State Fire Marshal John Chamblee said Thursday that he had not received a final report from his investigators, but the location of the Aug. 29 fire and evidence on how it was ignited led officials to conclude it had been set.

Chamblee declined to give details. Authorities have said they have no suspects.

The 30 church members, who are white, black and Choctaw Indian, moved into one-story church last spring.

″I think people just had a problem with blacks, whites and Indians going to church together, said Hatcher. ″Whoever did this didn’t understand what we are about. I guess the world hasn’t gotten that far ahead.″

Church officials vowed to rebuild, but said the insurance would not cover the cost.

Larry Miller, another founding church member, said the church was not warmly embraced by the community, although some ocal churches expressed sympathy following the fire.

″As a white person, I feel a lot vented toward me by other whites,″ he said.

Cleve McDowell, a top official with the state branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said there had been ″several problems in that area. There is blatant hostility in that area of the state that does not exist elsewhere.″

Macon is a town of 2,400 people in east-central Mississippi.

″I’m extremely disappointed, but not shocked,″ McDowell said. ″I think it was an action by a person with a low mentality who thought he was responding to what the white public wanted.″

The church’s adult members, who are mostly college-educated professionals, have been active in working with the poor.

″Our main interest is not just going to church on Sunday. Our goals are to cater to the needs of the community, but we target those people in the lower socioeconomic condition,″ Hatcher said.

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