Sunday (Feb. 19) night, members of the oldest Black church in East Bay, California, were at a loss for words as the building went up in flames.
A video tweeted by Oakland Fire Department showed the First African Methodist Episcopal Church’s roof overwhelmed by flames and smoke shooting through. Shortly after midnight, the fire, which reportedly began at 37th and Telegraph, quickly evolved into a three-alarm fire.
Sixty minutes later, firefighters began to “administer an exterior flow of water to [the] burning structure to reduce the dangers of the fire spreading.”
“This is now a defensive firefight with three ladder pipes and crews on the ground putting water onto the roof and interior of the building,” the OFD tweeted.
While firefighters were able to determine the origin of the fire, the cause of it remains undetermined. No injuries were reported.
In a video uploaded on the congregation’s Facebook page, the church’s pastor, Rev. Rodney Smith, revealed more about the devastating fire.
“We don’t know why, we don’t know who, but it’s burning down,” he said as he stood near the scene. “But I promise you this: We will rise again.”
Later in the video, the pastor stated that the interior structure was “gutted,” and only the outer walls were still standing, although on fire.
The A.M.E. Church is the first and oldest Black church in the East Bay, dating to 1858, per the Oakland Public Library. It was the only African American church in Oakland for over three decades. According to the Online Archive of California, the church acted as the cultural center of the African American community.
In the video, the pastor also revealed that the church was also the first school for people of color at a time when only white children could attend public schools.
“First A.M.E. Church Oakland was educating Black people 20 years before we were able to get [a] public education,” he mentioned. “The church feeds the community, serves the community in every way.”
“I’m completely devastated, completely at a loss for words,” he added. “We need your prayers.”