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Colloquium Talk

Friday, April 12, 2013
12:00 AM
4154 LSA

Doug McAdam, Professor of Sociology and Director of Urban Studies at Stanford University will present a talk "Race, Politics, the Media and the Burning of Black Churches in the U.S., 1996-2001."

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.

Doug McAdam