Rembering the Emanuel AME Church Nine five years later:
Delivered at the National Board Meeting for the American Board of Trial Advocates in Charleston, S.C., on Oct. 10, 2015. Prior to his remarks, Ann Caldwell, a parishioner at the Emanuel AME Church, sang “Amazing Grace.”
By: Luther J. Battiste, III
Thank you to all who inquired about the devastating floods that affected Columbia, Charleston and other places in South Carolina. Many have lost their homes and businesses. Some have unfortunately lost their lives. And thousands have been affected. We appreciate your concern and ask that you please continue to pray for us.
I was in 10th grade algebra class when I found out about the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963; in my college dormitory room at the University of South Carolina when I was told by a classmate of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968; and walking across the University of South Carolina campus when I was told about the death of Robert Kennedy in the Summer of 1968. All senseless deaths by shooting.
I was relaxing at home when my cell phone flashed, “shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church” in Charleston, SC., in June of this year. I had no idea what news would come next. I knew it was the church of Senator Clementa Pinckney. I had worked with Sen. Pinckney as President of the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association to protect the civil justice system and the right to meaningful jury trials. He was a staunch supporter of what we in ABOTA cherish so much.
Sen. Pinckney had worked at the South Carolina State House all day, campaigned with Hillary Clinton and drove back to Charleston for bible study at his church, the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church.
The church was founded in 1816 because of racial discrimination at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. The creation of the new church was led by Reverend Morris Brown. The original church was demolished by earthquake and the present structure on the south side of Calhoun Street was built in 1891.
A guest joined the church members that night at Bible study — Dylan Roof of Columbia. His grandfather, a well-respected Columbia lawyer. His grandparents, two of the nicest people that anyone would like to have as friends. They were my constituents when I was a member of the Columbia City Council.
After worshiping with Sen. Pinckney and other church members and as the group closed their eyes in prayer, Dylan Roof opened fire and killed nine of them.
He told Polly Sheppard that he would allow her to live to tell the story about what happened. Felicia Sanders, who lost her son, also was not harmed, along with her 11-yearold granddaughter. Sen. Pinckney’s daughter and wife listened to the mass shootings from their vantage point in the basement of the church.
I have lived in South Carolina for all but three years of my life. I cannot describe to you the emotion and pain we experienced in this state after this terrible tragedy took place. The impact and emotion of the events consumed us and affected people of goodwill all over the country and the world. Many in this room reached out to us here including our President, Joel Collins, who was in Europe for the ABOTA International Meeting. Joel was given constant updates.
South Carolina, like every state, is often divided based on racial and political issues. As a result of the tragedy of the Emanuel AME Church massacre, we as a state became one. We united out of our sympathy for the victims, their families, the Mother Emanuel Church family and our shock that any one person could have so much hate and disrespect for the value of human life.
We had many heroes and leaders that arose from this tragedy. Forgiveness is a tenet of the AME Church. The survivors of the tragedy and their family members told Dylan Roof that they forgave him and prayed for his soul. That sense of forgiveness had an impact. What special people who, in experiencing unthinkable tragedy, could forgive the killer? The leaders of the AME Church also conveyed a sense of calm.
Charleston has always been regarded as a city of manners and grace. Charleston did not riot. I like to say that when confronted with a major crisis, a tragic event, Charleston and South Carolina stepped up. We were one City, one State and for once, we were not divided by race, politics or other issues.
We were united by the senselessness of what happened and the need to come together as one state. We discovered commonalities. We realized that we were more alike than different.
Mayor Joe Riley has served as Mayor of Charleston since 1975 and is known as “America’s Mayor.” He has always been a visionary leader with wide support of the total community. He provided his usual outstanding leadership.
Nikki Haley, our governor, is a person that I usually disagree with on most issues. She, however, provided outstanding leadership when we needed it most. She worked as a guiding force in articulating the thoughts and feelings of South Carolinians. Gov. Haley was visibly affected by what took place. She attended all nine funerals of the victims.
Photos appeared on Dylan Roof’s Facebook page showing him draped with the Confederate Flag. I know that ABOTA members in this room may have different feelings about the flag. I respect the fact that in this country, we have the freedom and right to have different opinions. But I think we all can agree that Dylan Roof misappropriated the flag and used it for hate.
I host a jazz radio show and dedicated the June 28, 2015, show to Mother Emanuel AME Church. I played songs that were meant for healing and reflection. I ended my show on June 28, by saying, "Today’s show is dedicated to our fallen brothers and sisters of Emanuel AME Church and our hopes for a brighter future. It is said that out of tragedy, good can come. Let’s hope that we can take GIANT STEPS toward a brighter future so AT LAST a change can come."
I played three songs: “GIANT STEPS” by John Coltrane, “AT LAST” by Etta James, and “A CHANGE IS GOING TO COME” by Sam Cooke.
With Gov. Haley’s leadership, legislators of both parties and of different races, voted to take down the Confederate Flag, a symbol which had divided us. Our President, Joel Collins, wrote a letter to both legislative bodies requesting that they take down the Confederate flag.
We opened this tribute with the song “AMAZING GRACE.” We did so thoughtfully. President Obama gave the eulogy at Sen. Pinckney’s funeral.
President Obama stated at that time: “The whole week I have been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach in his sermons… As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited Grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we have been blind. He has given us the chance, where we have been lost, to find ourselves.”
My friends and colleagues of ABOTA, we stand here today to pay respect to the Emanuel AME 9. Let us continue, in our law practices, and in our personal lives, to find ourselves where we have been lost and to continue to use the legal system to be better citizens and better people. Let us promote tolerance and understanding of differences. Let us confront injustice, stereotypes, misunderstanding and those things that divide us. Let us move out of our comfort zones to honestly discuss topics that are often uncomfortable with people who sometimes make us uncomfortable. By doing these things, we make strides toward building a world characterized by peace, love, brotherhood, and yes, grace.
I will leave you with a few quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., for your reflection.
“Human progress is neither automatic or inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, and struggle, the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
“The time is always right to do the right thing.”