It’s a good day, with the ruling, but it’s also the day of Clementa Pinckney’s funeral.
The pastor is singing – Ship of Zion. Quite impossible not to be moved by it.
The Obamas and Biden have arrived. Everyone is singing “It is well in my soul.” There are a lot of pastors in purple on the…stage? Podium? The raised place in front, facing the congregation. It occurs to me that they can all be thinking, “I could have been one.”
“Put his eyes to the telescope of eternity.”
This song I actually know.
The Guardian is transcribing live for me, so I don’t have to.
The president is speaking now.
“The bible tells us to hope and persevere,” he began.
Obama went on to say that while he did not know Pinckney well, he did meet him when they were both young – when Obama had fewervisible grey hairs.
Obama said Pinckney came from a family of preachers and a family of protesters who fought for the right to vote and helped desegregate the South.
As he speaks, you can hear murmurs of agreement from the crowd.
Pinckney was a good man, Obama says, adding: “You don’t have to be of high station to be a good man.” According to Obama, that js all one can hope for when eulogizing anyone – that after all the résumés are read, that the person be a good person.
Obama names all nine people shot dead last week: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr, Reverend Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson.
“To the families of fallen, the nation shares in your grief. The church is and always has been the center of African American life. A place to call our own in often hostile world. A sanctuary from many hardships.”
It’s very very churchy and goddy. It had to be.
The Black church is our beating heart, says Obama.
“There is no better example of this than Mother Emanuel.”
Obama says that it is not known if the suspect in the shooting knew the history of the church he targeted, but says he probably sensed its meaning.
“[It was] an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepend divisions that track back to our nation’s original sin,” says Obama.
“God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas. He didn’t know he was being used by God.”
He said the mysterious ways part with a preacherly little chuckle. It was a peripateia – he set up the tragedy and then turned it.
To great applause, Obama says that “the alleged killer” was blinded by hatred; that the alleged killer could not see the grace around Pinckney and the bible study group as they opened the doors of the church to him.
He could not see, the president says, that the families of victims would respond with words of forgiveness or that the nation would respond not with revulsion but with a retrospection and self-examination that we so rarely see.
And now he’s talking directly about race and racism. The Guardian has paused in its transcribing for the moment.
“For too long” – that gets a stir of applause and murmurs.
“We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut – we don’t need more talk.”
“An open heart” – that’s what we need now, he says.
The dude is singing.
The Guardian has caught up:
Obama says that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s remarks calling for removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol were worthy of praise.
Obama says that the “flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride” – a remark which is greeted by great applause.
“For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of system oppression and racial segregation,” Obama says.
Removing the flag is not an act of political correctness, Obama says, but a sign that the cause for which the Confederates fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.
That got a lot of applause.
Here’s the part where he got into it:
Obama says we all must think about conscious and unconscious racial discrimination in our every day lives. Not just about racial slurs, but also about how we want to call Johnny back for a job interview, but not Jamal.
We have to begin by treating every child equally no matter their race or the station they were born into, he says.
Obama also says we need to open our eyes to the mayhem of gun violence.
“Sporadically our eyes are open,” he says, as when people are shot at an elementary school, at a movie theatre, or in the basement of a church.
We should also not forget about the 30 lives lost to gun violence every day, he adds. Or the survivors, who are crippled by guns, or children now fearful and communities overflowing with grief.
Every time another act of gun violence occurs, someone says we need to talk about race, says Obama.
We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.
Pinckney “understood that justice stems from recognition … that my liberty depends on you being free too. That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice,” says Obama.
Instead, he says, history must be used as a manual to break the cycle.
It was powerful.