The Charleston Shooting Didn't Just Happen At Any Church. Here's Why.

"Where Can We Be Black?"

On Wednesday June 17, nine people were killed in a terror attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal, a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The 9 p.m. massacre took place during a bible study, and has generated the stunned outrage it warrants. Among the most haunting responses was this tweet by Solange Knowles.


"Where can we be black?" has always been a very valid question in the U.S., and it was one that Emanuel AME, and the AME Church overall, were established to answer. 

This church, meant to be a safe space for the community, was not an arbitrary target for the gunman whose intent was to specifically wipe out Black people. "I have to do it," said the shooter, according to witness Sylvia Johnson. "You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go."  

This latest blow won't bring the congregation to its knees, though. Now, more than ever, we must remember this church's demonstrated history of resilience and all the good it has done.

1. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is one of the oldest Black congregations in the U.S.

According to the church's website, the congregation was founded in 1816 when a group of 4,000 Black members of the local White Methodist church broke off after a dispute over burial ground rights. Given the church's long history of being a haven for the Black community, it's no wonder it's affectionately called "Mother Emanuel." 

2. Its founders were an abolitionist and a slave who had bought his own freedom.

Morris Brown and Denmark Vesey created the church as a space for Black Christians to worship, and avoid the discrimination they faced in White-dominated churches.

3. The African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded as a Black sanctuary from White exclusion.

Members of the Free African Society, a Black civic group in Philadelphia, broke off from the greatest Methodist church in 1816 in response to rampant discrimination in churches. Richard Allen is considered one of the most important founders.

4. The church was burned down in 1822, after one of its pastors was accused of trying to lead a slave revolt.

Founder Denmark Vesey was charged and executed for organizing the revolt. Yesterday's shooting occurred just one day after the 193rd anniversary of this event. 

5. The congregation went underground when Black churches were banned in 1834.

Black churches in South Carolina were banned after the threatened slave revolt, and members were not allowed to worship openly until after the Civil War.

6. Emanuel AME was a focal point during the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gathered to urge congregation members to register to vote. In 1969, Coretta Scott King led a march in solidarity with the city's striking hospital workers. More than half of the 1,500 protestors were arrested.

7. Speaking of the Civil Rights Movement, these types of attacks aren't new.

In 1963, The Ku Klux Klan bombed 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young girls. The viscerally horrific terror attack was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and was probably the most high profile event in a history of attacks on Black place of worship.

8. The pastor killed in the shooting was a state senator and gun control advocate.

The church's legacy of activism never rested. Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney was state senator and a huge gun control advocate. After the murder of Walter Scott, he played a major role in mandating body cameras for police officers.

9. Note the flags on the killer's jacket.

What does South Africa have to do with South Carolina? The photo that's been going around has featured the terrorist in a jacket with apartheid South Africa's flag, what could be considered their equivalent of the confederate flag. It's a White supremacist symbol. 

The American Civil Rights Movement was hugely influential in South Africa, and importance of leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu show what significant, parallel role churches had in the movement there.


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