They call it Mother Emanuel. Home to the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, has been a key part of the rich history of the American south, from slave revolts in the early 19th century to the civil rights movement.
“Where you are is a very special place in Charleston,” the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the attack on the church on Wednesday, told a group of doctoral students in 2013. “This site, this area, has been tied to the history and life of African Americans since the early 1800s.”
On Wednesday evening a new, bleak chapter in this rich history was written, when Pinckney and eight congregants were gunned down in cold blood at a basement Bible-study class.
The attack, which police are calling a hate crime, carries troubling echoes of the past.
“If [the shooter] was a white supremacist then he’s picked a target that’s incredibly symbolic in the black community. He’s hit at the very heart of it,” said Tim Lockley, a professor of American history at Warwick University who specialises in race relations.
Mother Emanuel was born into an era of violence. In 1822, just four years after the first church was built, a freed slave and carpenter named Denmark Vesey, one of the founders of the Emanuel church, was the ringleader of a vast planned slave insurrection known as “the rising”.
In 1834, the city of Charleston banned all-black churches. The congregation of Emanuel, which had been rebuilt since the Vesey trials, were forced to meet in secret until the end of the civil war.
After reconstruction, the congregation began to grow, and its importance for the black Christian community in Charleston grew along with it.
Booker T Washington spoke there in 1909; Dr Martin Luther King’s gave a speech at Emanuel there urging congregants to vote in 1962. In 1969, almost exactly a year after King’s death, his widow Coretta Scott King led a protest to the church; 900 were arrested by the national guard.
Barack Obama said on Thursdau that he and his wife Michelle knew members of the Emanuel congregation, and that they knew the Rev Pinckney.
“Mother Emanuel is in fact more than a church,” the president said. “This is a place of worship that was founded by African-Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshippers worked to end slavery.”
“This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston, and the history of America,” he said.
Mother Emanuel has seen death, cruelty and despair. In his speech to the doctoral candidates, Pinckney said that the church was a “beacon, and a bearer of the culture, and a bearer of what makes us people”. Like America, he said, it was about freedom. “Freedom to worship … freedom to be all God intends you to be,” he said. “Sometimes you gotta make noise to do that.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you maybe have to die, like Denmark Vesey, to do that.”
Original Article Found At http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/18/charleston-church-shooting-civil-rights-legacy-south-carolina