A landmark church in South Los Angeles, in which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. twice preached and was home to generations of black worshippers, was destroyed in a fire on Sunday.
The fire at the Victory Baptist Church, founded in 1943, broke out at about 2:22 a.m., fire officials said, according to KABC-TV.
“It’s very devastating for all of us, for those who have been here since … close to the origin of the founding of the church,” Pastor Edward Jenkins said. “To those who were born here and actually grew up in the church and still in the community and outside of the community … this is all they know.”
“The building is destroyed, but the church still lives,” he said. “The church is not dead. The church is doing fine. The building is in ruins, but we are going to rebuild.”
The intense fire led to at least two firefighters being injured.
After 25 minutes, a “mayday” call was issued.
— KTLA (@KTLA) September 11, 2022
“The mayday was an announcement of an emergency…where we had a partial roof collapse of this building while firefighters were inside mounting an attack,” David Ortiz, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, said, according to KTLA-TV. “The firefighters…had to cut away material that had trapped (a crew) member when the ceiling and the walls collapsed on him.”
The injured firefighter was transported to a local hospital. The firefighter’s injuries were not considered life-threatening.
Arson investigators and members of the House of Worship Task Force are investigating the cause of the fire.
“This is a terrible loss,” historian Tyree Boyd-Pates said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“It is hard to process, given the church’s role in Los Angeles especially for African Americans who moved here during the Great Migration of the 1940s.”
Full moon over the rubble of Victory Baptist Church in South LA. The devastating blaze destroyed the historic church. Arson investigators now searching for the cause of the blaze. Latest live at 11 @ABC7 pic.twitter.com/7r3Q8BbaE9
— Leanne Suter (@abc7leanne) September 12, 2022
“Victory is a humble giant in our own backyard,” Boyd-Pates said. “It pioneered not only gospel music but also social activism in Los Angeles.”
Donald Hambrick, 76, who migrated from Louisiana in 1958, cried over the fire.
“I learned about being black, being proud, about the importance of education here,” he said. “I learned how to dream.”
“A piece of history burned today,” congregant Pat Smith said. “This was part of our lives.”
King preached at the church on Sept. 13, 1959, and June 25, 1967, according to the King Institute at Stanford University. According to NPR, in his 1967 speech at the church, King was turning his focus from civil rights to poverty.
“It’s much easier to integrate a bus than it is to eradicate slums. It is much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee an annual income. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to create jobs. And the things that we are calling for now will mean that the nation will have to spend billions of dollars in order to solve these problems,” NPR quoted King as saying in his 1967 sermon.
CORRECTION, Sept. 13, 2022: The Western Journal has edited the headline of this article to clarify that cause of the fire that destroyed the church is under investigation, and not the church itself.
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