Rich symbols

The Times did some background on Emanuel AME church and Clementa Pinckney the other day.

Intentionally or not, the gunman had found in Emanuel A.M.E., and in its 41-year-old pastor, rich symbols to attack with deadly racial hatred. Pastor Pinckney was a well-known civil rights leader in Charleston. He was elected to the South Carolina House at age 23, and then to the State Senate at age 27.

After Walter Scott, an African-American, was shot in the back by a North Charleston police officer in April, Mr. Pinckney helped guide through the State Legislature a bill requiring officers to wear body cameras.

Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and a friend of Mr. Pinckney’s since their teenage years, said all the young Democrats coming up together in the state looked up to Mr. Pinckney. “We all aspired to be like Clementa,” Mr. Harrison said.

Mr. Pinckney was not a divisive figure, community and political leaders say. State Representative James E. Smith Jr., the minority leader and a Democrat who was elected to the State House at the same time as Mr. Pinckney, called him, “a giant voice for justice in South Carolina,” and a conciliatory leader, not a bomb thrower.

Tyler Jones, political director of the South Carolina House Democratic Caucus, said, “I have never heard anyone utter a negative word about Clem Pinckney, and that’s not an exaggeration.”

But the church was a rebel church, a slave revolt church.

In 1822, the authorities were tipped off before plans for the slave revolt could be put in effect; 313 suspected conspirators were arrested, and 35, including Denmark Vesey, the organizer who was a founder of the church, were executed. Angry whites in town burned the original church down.

The church, rebuilt in 1891, holds that history dear. A memorial to Mr. Vesey within its Gothic Revival walls is a reminder not only of the revolt, but also of Charleston’s past.

In the 1960s, the church was a center of civil rights organizing. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the church in 1962.

In his remarks on the killings on Thursday, President Obama acknowledged the church’s special history.

“This is a place of worship that was founded by African-Americans seeking liberty,” he said. “This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery. When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, they conducted services in secret. When there was a nonviolent movement to bring our country closer in line with our highest ideals, some of our brightest leaders spoke and led marches from this church’s steps.”

So no wonder an ambitious racist went there to murder some of its members.


  1. latsot says

    I read about the church’s history and speculated that Roof chose this particular church to make what he thought was a point by murdering all those people.

    It doesn’t seem much like coincidence, does it? It seems more like a carefully chosen symbol of what Roof thinks is wrong with the world. Things like people doing what they knew was right despite the violent disapproval of people like him; despite jaw-dropping discriminatory laws; and despite the enduring legacy of that casual way of treating certain people as not-people.

    That kind of toxic atmosphere makes dogs feel like underdogs, I guess. We see it everywhere and you know what? You have to do a shitload of bad to a puppy to make it sad. Not granting puppies the right to bite people at random or eat the sofa doesn’t seem to impinge on their quality of life. Because they will happily bite themselves to see what will happen and be mystified by hedgehogs.

    I’m too angry to tease out the analogy, but I’m sure I don’t need to. When we say that bigotry such as racism and sexism are institutionalised, some of us are shrugging our shoulders but others realise that we’re part of that institution and we’re making it worse.

  2. John Morales says


    It doesn’t seem much like coincidence, does it? It seems more like a carefully chosen symbol of what Roof thinks is wrong with the world.

    I don’t find your speculation particularly plausible.

    Also (not that it’s relevant to its truth-value) if true, your speculation entails a degree of acumen and competence which contrasts severely with his known actions and their (hitherto at least) negative outcome in relation to his stated goal.

  3. latsot says

    He didn’t fire off his gun like Yosemite fucking Sam. He chose a particular place and time and particular people to kill.

    His “stated” goal was to kill rapists. My speculation about his motives is more plausible on the face of it than the idea of revenge against imagined rapists or of a random shooting. He went to a particular place, he sat there for an hour while people tried to include him and then he murdered some of them. I doubt the location was entirely coincidental.

    But what the fuck ever. Speculation is speculation and it’s not like I’ve never been wrong before. You might need to think a bit harder about what “plausible” means, though.

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