On Sunday fire destroyed Victory Baptist Church, on Monday its South L.A. community is ready to rebuild – Daily News
Shortly after two o’clock on Sunday morning, Sept. 11, a fire broke out at a two-story church in the South Park area of Los Angeles, burning it to the ground.
News of the devastating fire spread across the community Monday with many reflecting on the loss of the history-steeped church. Victory Baptist Church grew out of a storefront about 75 years ago and quickly became a historical landmark and religious haven for African Americans.
“This church was a long-term stabilizing force in the community, and kind of a beacon of hope deep inside of a residential part of South Los Angeles,” said former Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district included the church.
Victory Baptist Church was established in 1943 by Arthur Atlas Peters on Easter Sunday in a storefront on 42nd Street and Wadsworth Avenue. In just two years, the congregation grew enough to move to a larger building on East 48th Street and McKinley Avenue.
In the 1960s, the church was the hub of social and political change as it hosted fundraisers for the civil rights movement. During its 24th anniversary, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached to the congregation. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, soprano Dorothy Maynor and singer and actress Ethel Waters (Stormy Weather) were among prominent visitors.
Perry said she spent many years visiting the church. She’s worried about its members, especially seniors, who have been members of the congregation for decades and who depended on its services.
“To come out of COVID and to have to be in a lockdown and unable to worship with people you’ve been together with for decades — and then to have this happen, it’s devastating,” she said.
Still, Perry said she was optimistic that the congregation would recover and restore the building “if everybody pulls together and helps them.”
On Sunday morning, it took about 150 Los Angeles firefighters to extinguish the flames that broke out at 2:22 a.m., according to Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Nicholas Prange. The fire jumped through the roof of the church, engulfing the entire building. On Monday, firefighters remained on the scene to put out hot spots and smoldering debris.
Jahi Jenkins, the son of Pastor W. Edward Jenkins, said several items were saved from the burned building, including church documents, portraits of former and current pastors, pulpit chairs — and the piano.
Victory Church was a big part of his life from day one, Jahi said. He was born and later baptized at the church and over the years gave multiple speeches at Easter, Christmas and Mother’s and Father’s days. He also learned to play drums at Victory Church — an important milestone for the 23-year-old musician.
“I’m still processing, and it’s a lot to take in,” Jahi said.
Today the congregation includes hundreds of parishioners, he said, and even as South Los Angeles demographics have shifted, welcoming more Latino residents, the church remained in the same location serving nearby communities. The church offers an array of services, including distribution of vegetables, poultry and non-perishable foods, tutoring for students, a turkey giveaway on Thanksgiving and dinners on Christmas.
Since the disaster struck, the church has received an avalanche of phone calls from across the country, he said, from people offering help.
“Next couple of weeks are going to be crucial,” he said, adding that the goal is to resume church services in some capacity, streaming sermons online or using buildings offered by other churches.
Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Southern California, said, “As a faith community we are very saddened by the tragedy that took place, and we’re going to do whatever we can to be a support in whatever areas the church might need an assistance with.”
He noted that “it’s our responsibility to continue to rally to make sure that the many great things they were doing in the community will continue to flourish.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Curren D. Price, whose district includes the congregation of Victory Baptist Church, said “the fire impacted far beyond the walls of the church” and his office — like the entire South Los Angeles community, was faced on helping the church recover as soon as possible.
He noted that Los Angeles Fire Department’s special House of Worship Task Force and its Arson/Counter-Terrorism Section, was looking for potential ignition sources. Representatives with LAFD didn’t immediately return requests for comment.
“We are doing all we can to assist,” Price said, adding, “We carry about their loss — and we carry about their recovery.”
Jahi said the church’s goal is to resume services as quickly as possible, while rebuilding. “The church is inside of us and that’s what gives me hope,” he said.