Mayor Errick D. Simmons of Greenville said that firefighters, responding to a call around 9:15 p.m., discovered the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church “engulfed in flames.” Fire Chief Ruben Brown said the blaze took about an hour to fully extinguish. The church sanctuary was heavily damaged by heat, fire and smoke, he said.
The 200-member church has been a fixture for more than 110 years in Greenville, a Mississippi Delta city of about 32,000. “Our hearts are broken but are not angry,” Carolyn Hudson, the church pastor, said at a news conference called Wednesday by city officials. “But hearts are broken, and we are saddened by what has happened.”
No one was injured in the attack.
At the news conference, Chief Wilson said the episode was being investigated as a hate crime.
“We feel that the quote that was placed on the church was basically, it’s an intimidation of someone’s right to vote whatever way they choose to vote,” he said. “So that would be definitely considered a hate crime.”
But “as far it being a racial issue,” he added, “I can’t say that.”
The F.B.I. office in Jackson, the state capital, released a brief statement saying that it was “working with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to determine if any civil rights crimes were committed.” The state fire marshal and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also assisting with the investigation.
“The initial work here indicates this is not of a political nature even though there may be something that says ‘Vote Trump’ on the side of the church,” said Mr. Hosemann, a Republican. “So everybody needs to calm down here until we get to the bottom of this.”
It also follows months of racially charged campaign speech from Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee. Though Mr. Trump has portrayed himself as a friend of African-Americans and has vowed to make their lives better, he has garnered the support of many white supremacists and white nationalists. Some of his supporters have darkly predicted riots and even revolution if he loses to his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, on Tuesday. His campaign this week disavowed support from The Crusader, a Ku Klux Klan newspaper.
Mr. Trump is heavily favored to win in Mississippi, a state where about 60 percent of the population is white.
Greenville today is about 20 percent white and 78 percent black, and the public schools are virtually all black. But Mr. Simmons noted that blacks and whites now pray together every fifth Sunday as part of an event he created.