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  • Speaker: Doug McAdam
  • Host Department: Sociology
  • Date: 04/12/2013
  • Time: 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM

  • Location: 4154 LSA

  • Description:

    In 1996 the nation’s print media devoted a great deal
    of coverage to a sudden rash of arson attacks against
    black churches, stressing what were believed to be
    racial motivations underlying the attacks. Later
    coverage called this interpretation into question,
    leaving the racial dimensions of the story very much
    in doubt. In hopes of better understanding what, if
    any, role race played in the attacks, we seek to predict
    county-level variation in arson attacks on black
    churches. We do so by analyzing data collected by the
    National Church Arson Task Force on church burning
    events from 1996 through 2001. In contrast to earlier
    work, we find no evidence that traditional measures of
    political and economic competition between blacks
    and whites predict spatial variation in arson attacks.
    We do, however, find that measures of past and
    present local racial conflict—the number of active hate
    groups in 1996 and the occurrence of lynching—are
    significant predictors of the church burnings.
    Interestingly, however, the effect of lynching is contin-
    gent on the level of media coverage. That is, counties
    that had experienced lynching in the past were also
    more likely to be witness to arson attacks against black
    churches, but only while media attention to the issue
    was high. There was no such contingent effect of hate
    groups on church burning. Explicitly committed to
    racist beliefs and actions, hate groups did not need the
    “encouragement” of the media to act. Elsewhere, how-
    ever, the initial pace and racial framing of the church
    burnings stimulated additional attacks but primarily in
    communities whose own histories of racial violence—
    as measured by lynching—made them susceptible to the
    media priming effect.

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