Fire Destroys Historic Church in South LA

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Arson investigators with the Los Angeles Fire Department comb through the charred and smoldering remains of Victory Baptist Church Sunday morning after a fire destroyed the neighborhood landmark in South Los Angeles.

According to Nicholas Prange, spokesman for the fire service, the fire broke out at 2:22 a.m. on Sunday and quickly grew into a major emergency that required the response of at least 16 companies.

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Two firefighters were injured trying to put out the blaze during a two-hour fight, said Prange. They were inside the church when someone got trapped by a collapsing ceiling and walls. An emergency call was launched and the firefighter was rescued and taken to a hospital with moderate injuries. The other firefighter sought treatment for minor injuries after the incident.

Victory Baptist Church, which could not be saved, has played an important role in the spiritual and political history of South Los Angeles.

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Founded in a local storefront by 14 members of the community on Easter Sunday 1943, the church moved to its current building a year later. The choir consisted of 75 members and in the 1950s the Sunday evening services were broadcast nationally on television.

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at church in 1964. Visiting singers included soprano Dorothy Maynor, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and singer and actress Ethel Waters.

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The church is now the scene of an active arson investigation, including the House of Worship Task Force, a multi-agency effort seeking to identify and arrest individuals targeting churches in Los Angeles.