The pastor of a historic African-American church in East Texas says he was alarmed to see four tree limbs formed into the shape of a cross set on fire outside his church early Sunday morning.
When Pastor Bill Burton of St. Thomas AME Church discovered the burning makeshift cross on the grounds of the Alto, Texas, church that's over 100 years old, he said it brought back memories of cross burnings outside black churches in the 1960s, CBS19 reported on Tuesday.
"When I saw the cross burning, it was heart wrenching," Burton said. "Just brought back the '60s to my mind, back when they used to burn crosses at different churches. When you burn a cross on church ground that speaks for itself."
Cherokee County Sheriff's Office Chief James Campbell, however, said that although the tree branches were arranged in the shape of a cross, it didn't appear they were used to burn down the church. He added that a rock had been used to break a window and a water line had been broken. But his office hasn't yet deemed it a hate crime.
Burton said he's convinced the act was in fact a hate crime, but stressed that his congregation would not live in fear and will continue to have services as usual.