CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - It has been five years since a white supremacist opened fire on churchgoers at the end of a Wednesday night Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston.
“Mother Emanuel knows first hand the pain that is caused when a racist comes into a place that you hold sacred, that you hold dear, and murders nine of your church members,” the Rev. Eric Manning, the church’s current lead pastor, said.
But on this anniversary of the tragedy, more than a dozen of the annual events held to honor the victims have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and current social distancing guidelines.
Manning says it is still important to remember what happened at the church. He also says the newest movement for social justice that began with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month will create monumental change.
“I would hope and pray that with this movement, it touches the hearts of more people so that way they will have the courage to take a stand and to see the changes through,” Manning said.
A Unity Walk has been scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday. Organizers say the church and the city of Charleston will lead the march through downtown Charleston beginning at the Maritime Center at 10 Wharfside Street traveling down Calhoun Street to the Mother Emanuel AME Church at 110 Calhoun Street.
Selected speakers, including the Emanuel Nine family members and representatives and the family of Walter Scott, a man who was fatally shot by a former North Charleston Police officer during a traffic stop, will address the call for racial justice and equality sweeping the nation.
The victims of the killing included the church’s senior pastor who was also a state senator and eight of his parishioners:
- The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41
- Cynthia Graham Hurd, 54
- Susie Jackson, 87
- Ethel Lance, 70
- Rev. DePayne Middleton, 49
- Tywanza Sanders, 26
- Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74
- Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45
- Myra Thompson, 59
Gov. Henry McMaster released the following statement on the 5th Anniversary of the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church:
Five years ago, we lost nine beautiful souls at Mother Emanuel and our state was shaken by an unspeakable act of hatred and ignorance. But evil did not win the day. Love, compassion, strength, and faith – exemplified by the families of the Emanuel 9 – reigned supreme.
We must not simply remember the lessons learned that day and in the days and weeks which followed. We must carry them with us each day, recognizing that although evil and tragedy exist, the unifying effects of grace and love abound and conquer all.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham also released a statement on the fifth anniversary of the massacre:
Five years have passed and it still feels like a bad dream, but we know it actually happened. The senseless murder of nine parishioners at Mother Emanuel hit South Carolina like a ton of bricks. It remains hard to understand how anyone could have so much hate in their heart. To be welcomed into a church, worship with the parishioners, and then turn around and shoot them in cold blood remains one of the most horrific acts ever recorded.
Then just days after this horrible tragedy, the people at Mother Emanuel showed a level of love and forgiveness that was truly unimaginable. It was an act that is rarely seen. I personally cannot imagine turning to the person who killed my family members saying I forgive you. I know that type of grace can only come from God. Of all the things that I’ve seen in public life, the words from the family members continue to amaze me to this day. You must truly have the love of the Lord in your heart to be able to muster that kind of forgiveness.
On the five year anniversary, we think of those who lost their lives and the families left behind. The Christmases without loved ones. The birthdays missed. Our hearts are still broken and our prayers remain with the parishioners at Mother Emanuel.
Sixth district U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn also released a statement on the anniversary of the killing:
That heinous act of violence and hate had a profound impact on our community here in Charleston, my family, and me. My home church, Morris Brown, is only a few blocks away from Mother Emanuel. The parishioners are my constituents, my neighbors, and my friends - as were many of the victims - including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine killed on that day in 2015. Just weeks before the shooting at Mother Emanuel, Rev. Pickney and I shared Emanuel's pulpit protesting the police shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston.
Five years after the death of Walter Scott and the nine Mother Emanuel parishioners, racism and hate continue to devastate our country.
The police shootings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the extrajudicial murder of Ahmaud Arbery have once again stirred the long and deep history of pain and trauma felt by black Americans. They have also inspired worldwide action.
As Americans all over the country are experiencing grief and expressing anger, the pain is taking the shape of peaceful protests and a powerful dialogue about racism in our country.
This sort of collective grassroots action reaffirms my faith in the future of our country because that’s how we can affect change.
I’ve experienced the efficacy of grassroots action while protesting segregation more than 50 years ago, I’ve seen it in the strength and resilience of the Mother Emanuel congregation five years ago, and I am seeing it in the current demonstrations across our nation.
Whether you join a protest, sign a petition, make a donation, support a political candidate or legislation, or cast your ballot, you play a role in stopping the cycle of hate and racism in our country and in our pursuit of a more perfect Union.
The South Carolina Senate Democrats issued the following statement:
On this day five years ago, our state was rattled by the horrific attack at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Nine innocent souls, gathered in prayer, were taken at the hands of a white supremacist. Today, we remind everyone to remember their names; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Myra Thompson, and our beloved friend and colleague State Senator Clementa Pinckney.
We all feel blessed to have known and worked with Senator Pinkney. His kind soul and heart for public service made him an incredible legislator and a great man. Had he been alive today, he would undoubtedly be a leading voice in fighting for equality and justice in these trying moments. We miss him dearly.
These nine South Carolinians were murdered because of the color of their skin. The violent racism that fueled this senseless attack at Mother Emanuel still exists, and we must commit ourselves to fighting this force of evil. Action must be taken to put safeguards in place to prevent another tragedy like this from happening ever again. Real, meaningful change can only be made with cooperation from both sides of the aisle. We must all do our part to stop the spread of hatred, stop gun violence, and hold attackers accountable.
Five years later, we find ourselves still fighting for racial justice across our nation. Black Americans should be able to worship, be in their homes, go for a run, or interact with police without fearing for their lives. It is our duty, as legislators, to fight for the reform we so desperately need in order to make our state a safer and more just place for all.
We honor the memories of the Emanuel Nine by devoting ourselves to protecting others. We fight for them, and we fight for a better South Carolina.
“We will never forget the impact of this horrific crime upon the victims, survivors, family members, and the Mother Emanuel AME Church,” United States Attorney Peter McCoy said. “Now, more than ever, their response of love and peace continues to reverberate throughout our state and country. Our office is honored by the privilege of having walked with the survivors and family members as we sought justice on their behalf. They will forever remain in our hearts.”
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office posted on Twitter that they pause to remember the nine victims of the killing, calling it “a horrific reminder of the racism that still exists today.”
“But we also rejoice in the resiliency of a Charleston County community that rose above the darkness of that day and came together, the post states. “We must continue to draw upon those lessons and strive for a better tomorrow.”