Disappointment at a past we can never erase; anger towards a young man on a murderous mission; amazed hope for the human condition thanks to families who forgave: the horrific Charleston shooting that took place on June 17, 2015 cost nine individuals their lives and prompted worldwide reflections on justness, as people like me pored over the news and experienced the full gamut of emotions.
It seemed that communities were coming together over this horrendous hate crime, showing their support to the congregation of Mother Emanuel AME Church through vigils, marches, and prayer meetings. One of our three away weekends immediately followed the shooting, and my family had made plans to visit Charleston together for Father’s Day Weekend, as I had never been before. Despite the tragedy that occurred, we decided to continue with our plans to spend time in Charleston, and on Saturday June 20 we visited Mother Emanuel AME Church. Pastors were leading prayers throughout the day, as locals and tourists alike joined together to pay their respects to the deceased congregation members by laying flowers at the memorial. News crews were buzzing around, interviewing people between prayers; the first anchorwoman I noticed was with an Atlanta news station, but I realized just how globally impactful the shooting was when I heard a woman express that she was with an Italian news channel stationed in Rome. In the face of a terrible event, people of every race and every age across the world seemed to be uniting.
However, conflict still erupted in regards to the shooting, as debate began regarding whether or not to allow the Confederate flag in the South Carolina Statehouse. Being in South Carolina made the argument seem even more pertinent to me than if it was merely something separate that I was watching on the news. Sitting in a Georgetown County Council meeting on Tuesday June 23, I was remarkably pleased that the council unanimously voted in support of the South Carolina resolution to remove the flag from the Statehouse. Having heard divided views around town, I was overjoyed by the unanimity, viewing it as giving the county’s support added strength, more powerfully diminishing the prominence of the Battle Flag of the Confederate States.
The ten BNs living together discussed the topics regarding the shooting at length, contemplating the hate crime. Naturally, we wanted to pay our respects for those whose lives were taken, so when we heard that Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s funeral would be open to the public on Friday June 26, a day in which none of us had work, we resolved to visit Charleston and wait in line for the memorial service. We were unsure of how likely it was that we would get in TD Arena at the College of Charleston, especially with President Obama coming to deliver the eulogy, but we decided to at least try.
We arrived early in the morning to queue, and during our first four hours of waiting, I found myself speaking with locals about one of my favorite topics: literature. A kind woman, who began looking out for me as the BNs struggled to stay together with people pushing into line, sneaking their way ahead of us, saw Liz’s copy of Beloved in her hands, and commented to me about the novel. From there we discussed various Toni Morrison works before delving into our favorite poems by Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. Then, as she was a Charleston native, I asked her how she felt the city handled the inhumane crime that brought us together for a funeral that morning. She confirmed my assumptions, expressing that unity was being reached, though due to a truly malignant act.
During our last hour of waiting, people around us were becoming antsy, and swarms began pushing through to get in front in line. With probably a bit less than one-hundred people in front of us, the gates to the arena closed, and we were unable to see the funeral. However, I think we all were incredibly grateful to stand in that line and see the love people were there to express. We heard songs and chants giving glory to God, songs reminding us that we all should be seen as equal. We saw smiles despite the heat, and we saw masses gathering to honor a man many never met but respected nonetheless.
As Americans in today’s fast-paced society, it is all too easy to quickly jump from one thing to the next, but I hope that the reflections gained from this heinous crime are not quickly forgotten. I hope that people in the area, and people around the world, continue to ruminate on the importance of equality, of safety, of love. As Obama expressed in his beautifully delivered eulogy, “Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it [grace] on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home.”