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One of two La. churches burned same night has been rebuilt

James Busby, pastor of Mound Baptist Church, stands at the podium inside the newly renovated church in Delta, La. The stained glass behind the podium was donated anonymously, like many of the structures inside the church that was burned April 18, 1999. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[04/16/01] James Busby, pastor of Mound Baptist Church, has seen his church destroyed and put together again, and he knows he is stronger because of it.

His predominantly white church founded in 1953 was destroyed by fire April 18, 1999, the same night as a predominantly black church, 134-year-old Old Mount Zion M.B. Church. The churches are about eight miles apart in the Louisiana Delta across the Mississippi River from Vicksburg.

No arrests were ever made.

“It was horrifying and devastating when it happened,” said Busby, pastor for three years.

John Spurgeon, agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm Shreveport office, said his office is still investigating the fires.

“This is not a closed matter,” Spurgeon said. “We consider this to be a very active case, and we hope to be successful in resolving it this year.”

The process of rebuilding Mound Baptist, which was moved about two miles from Mound to Hunter Heights in 1966, was a long and arduous one.

Busby said the church was insured for only $100,000 and about $200,000 more was needed to rebuild.

The resurrection of Mound Baptist began in October 1999 when a group of volunteers from Georgia helped lay the foundation for the new building.

The Carpenters for Christ spent a weekend helping church members get started on the restoration and returned four times in the next year and a half.

VicksMetal of Vicksburg donated roofing material, and Highland Baptist church members installed it. Mississippi Lumber gave the church a cut rate, Cooper Lighting donated lights, and electrician John Arnold did the wiring, Busby said.

“We would come and work on the church every Saturday, but none of this would have been possible without the help we received,” he said.

Busby said when the work was completed last month and its members walked in for the first time, they were astonished.

With its high ceilings, spectacular stained glass windows and 3,000 square feet, the church was more than the members had hoped for, Busby said.

“I think it was pretty much a shock to everyone what we were able to do,” he said.

Eight miles down the road, the pastor of Mount Zion, the Rev. Roosevelt Williams, said his church has not rebuilt and he is not sure it will.

“We are still trying to buy some land so that we can rebuild it,” Williams said.

Old Mount Zion was established in 1865 and during the years before the fire had been renovated to the one-room wood-frame white church that burned to the ground that Sunday in April.

The church is holding services at Mount Celler Baptist Church in Tallulah until members decide what to do, Williams said.

“We are still trying to recover from what happened, but we are moving on,” he said.

Mound Baptist was holding its services at Delta City Hall until last month, but Busby said the dedication of the new building at 10 a.m. on April 22 will mark a new beginning.

“We are a stronger group of people now that we have gone through this,” Busby said.

As for whoever destroyed the church, Busby said, he has forgiven them.

“Even if they are never arrested or convicted, they will get their just reward,” he said.