Last Wednesday, June 17, 2015, a young man walked into Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Calhoun Street. He sat among the worshipers, seemed to pray with them and, after almost an hour, stood in their midst and murdered nine of them.
Mother Emanuel is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the South. It has been a hotbed of the civil rights movement. It has been the target of racist hatred, even in the mid-1800s. But it was always a sanctuary, a sacred place, a place to come together in unity of worship and uniformity of purpose.
It has been violated.
In my own life, the church was not a place of safety for me. The church was not a place to feel protected. But I want that for other people. I want believers to have a place where they can go for sanctuary and solace. Now an evil young man has tried to rob that from these dear people.
Is he mentally ill? What he did is not a sane act…unless he has chosen to accept that absurd racist dogma as the truth. It is not enough to call him “troubled,” or “misguided” or even “insane.” Those phrases do not come near the problem at hand.
He is a thief in a society of thieves. In a house dedicated to the one who came to give life, a thief entered who came to “kill and steal and destroy.” Surely, he killed the nine worshipers and ministers. He attempted to steal their hope and their security. He wants to destroy the legacy of a people who are part and parcel of American History.
Understand. American History is Black History. Twenty Africans were sold into slavery at the Jamestown Colony in Virginia in 1619—only 12 years after the founding of Jamestown.
Africans were here before the Pilgrims were. Whereas the Pilgrims came willingly aboard the Mayflower, the African slaves were brought by force aboard a Dutch warship.
The entire African and African-American experience in North America has been one of terror. Dr. Cornell West pointed out that 9/11 was nothing new to the African-American. They had been brought to the New World in terror. They had lived under slavery in terror, then under Jim Crow in terror. Four little girls were burned to death in a church in Birmingham in 1963. Nothing but terror.
And every day of their lives, our African-American friends in South Carolina (and other places in the South) are forced to look at that flag of ignorance and hatred. When they go to the courthouse, to school or any place else, they must be reminded that they are under the lidless eye of racism.
Don’t tell me that the Confederate flag is a simple of heritage. It is a symbol of segregation and the only heritage it represents is a heritage of hatred. I was born and raised in the South. Those who flew that hateful rag were always of the same ilk.
There were no “glory days” of southern culture. They preached from the Bible from a slanted and sick interpretation used to force slaves into submission to their “masters.” There is nothing from that culture that we should bring forward into the present.
The President is correct—“That flag belongs in a museum.”
And now a white supremacist walks into a church and murders nine people in a Bible study. Some people might call him a Christian Extremist, even.
You may notice that I do not call the murderer by name. Some people do not deserve to be remembered and he is one of them. He is not a soldier of a lost cause. He is a terrorist and a perpetrator of hatred.
But before I allow myself to get swallowed up the unadulterated despite I feel for him and his racism—and I may be past that already—let me speak of the Grace of a people who have been too often and too heinously wounded.
Nine people wo gathered together to worship as they chose: the Rev. Clementa Pinckney; Tywanza Sanders; Cynthia Hurd; the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton; Ethel Lance; Susie Jackson; the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr.; and Myra Thompson.
I have asked the question before and I will probably be asking the same question for many years to come; How do they not just burn everything down? Certainly there were race riots in Detroit and Watts and other places. But how is it that our African-American brothers and sisters time and again reject the path of despair and hatred and choose the way of patience and understanding? How is it?
How is it that they bury child after child and man after man and still return to the sanctuary of decency and nobility? How is it?
Is it because they can lean on their faith and belief and find strength? Is it because they know what community really means? When in times of heartache and grief, loss and destruction, they know that they are there for each other?
The families have shown incredible grace and love. They have smiled and hugged and loved all who gather near them.
“Emanuel” itself means “God with us.” The nine worshipers gathered in Mother Emanuel AME Church to learn more and live fuller and love deeper. A hateful young racist walked to kill, steal and destroy and he did kill but… he did not steal their hope and he did not destroy their legacy. In the end, he only enhanced it.