By Ben Jealous
and Jotaka Eaddy
Monday, June 29, 2015.
You can kill a man,
but you can't kill an idea. Similarly, you can massacre members of a
congregation and assassinate the state senator who served as their pastor, but
you cannot kill the mission and spirit of the church to which they belong. And
the spirit of Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina is
one worth preserving, and celebrating, in the wake of the recent tragic act of domestic
terrorism that occurred there.
Emanuel AME Church is the oldest African Methodist
Church in the South, and it has long served as a bulwark for organized defiance
to white supremacy and discrimination. Founded by freed black slaves, it was
affectionately known as "Mother Emanuel," and the institution's
history of challenge and resistance mirrors the movement toward racial progress
that it fostered in the South.
In 1816, Mother Emanuel church was investigated for
its role in a planned slave rebellion organized by Denmark Vesey, one of its
founders. Vesey was executed. Then, for thirty years beginning in 1834, its
parishioners had to worship secretly because of a ban on black churches. Mother
Emanuel was burned down only to be rebuilt, and shut down by the state only to
continue operating as a symbol of resilience and devotion. Throughout it all,
the congregation endured, and the church hosted dignitaries from Booker T.
Washington to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the decades that followed the Civil
Mother Emanuel's pastor, who was slain in the
violence that took place that Wednesday, was a man that we have both had the
honor of knowing. Reverend Clementa Pinckney truly represented the mission and
movement of Mother Emanuel. Rev. Pinckney was a pastor at age 18, an elected
official at age 23, and a South Carolina state senator at age 27. He was known
for his kindness, his commitment to community, and his strong and passionate
voice. He fought for police accountability and gun control in a state where
both fights were uphill battles, but in the spirit of his church he did not let
that defeat him.
There were eight other victims that day: Sharonda
Coleman-Singleton, Cythia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance,
Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Susie Jackson, DePayne Doctor. Three men and six women
total, together they represented mothers, grandmothers, pastors, community
leaders, coaches and college graduates. In short, they represented a devoted
and beloved community in the best black church tradition. Their moment of
reflection - each praying alone and in unison at once - tragically cut short.
This attack, which was motivated by racial hatred,
will not be the first time that the congregation of Mother Emanuel church faced
an outside force that simply could not abide the thought of its continued
Yet, the church still stands, and on Thursday
afternoon its congregation and the community joined hands for a powerful
rendition of "We Shall Overcome." In Hebrew, Emanuel means "God
is with us", and there is no doubt that God will remain with the
congregation that has seen so much pain, yet so much triumph. Mother Emanuel
AME will overcome and her spirit will be stronger still.
Ben Jealous is Partner at Kapor Capital and
former President and CEO of the NAACP. Jotaka Eaddy, a native South Carolinian
and member of the A.M.E. church, is a political strategist and advocate and
former Senior Advisor at the NAACP.