Churches have long played a key role in black communities in the United States. Once, in parts of the nation, church buildings were the only places blacks could gather without fear of violence or harassment. Because of that, an attack on a black church took on special significance.

Here is partial list of attacks on black churches since the dawn of the civil rights era:

— June 29, 1958: A dynamite bomb damages Bethel Baptist Church, pastored by the civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth in Birmingham, Alabama. A white supremacist was convicted more than two decades later.

— Sept. 15, 1963: 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama: A bomb planted outside the sanctuary kills four black girls getting ready for Sunday morning worship. The city's segregated public schools were being desegregated at the time. Three Ku Klux Klansmen were later convicted; one remains in prison.

— Summer 1964: About three dozen black churches are burned or bombed in Mississippi during the drive to register black voters called Freedom Sumer.

— June 1996: Then-President Bill Clinton appoints a task force to investigate a spate of church fires, particularly at black churches in the rural South. Of 670 incidents that were investigated nationwide by October 1998, 225 involved black churches.

— Nov. 5, 2008: An arson fire burns Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Massachusetts, hours after Barack Obama is elected as the nation's first black president. Two white men plead guilty and a third is convicted by jurors in what was described as a hate crime.

— June 17, 2015: Nine people gathered for a prayer meeting are shot to death at The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. A white gunman with apparent sympathy to white supremacy is arrested.