In the thick swoon of coastal humidity, sweat mixing with the salt of tears, Charlestonians gathered in front of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church only hours after hearing word of the tragedy that had befallen the congregation. Bouquets of cherry reds, whispering pinks, and cotton cool whites were arranged by the door and were accompanied by the warmth of a stranger’s hug and a hushed prayer.
The shooting at Emanuel AME on June 17, which took nine lives, has been labeled a hate crime; the alleged gunman, a white supremacist. The victims, ranging in age from early 20s to late 70s, meeting to receive sustenance for the week ahead, looking forward to fellowship and maybe some good natured gossip. The gunman, driven by an unrelatable intensity and hatred, creating a nightmarish scenario that only he understood.
A shock wave ripped through South Carolina and the United States, conjuring the images of four little girls from Birmingham. “How did this happen?” so many asked. “Why?” “Can we make sense of this at all?”
Charleston is a city brimming in bubbling, rich history. A colonial town founded in 1670 and named after King Charles II, it quickly became a shipping hub second only to Boston and New York. The Revolutionary War was deemed cause to construct Fort Sullivan, now known as Fort Moultrie, and it is also home to Fort Sumter, it’s role pivotal in the Civil War. Politically, culturally, and historically, Charleston is a deep and diversely mixed place to call home.
Even Emanuel AME has a place in history. According to it’s website, the church was the supposed meeting place of Denmark Vesey and his followers as they planned the Slave Rebellion of 1821. The church was burned during the investigation of the plot and was in operation until 1834, when all black churches were shut down. The doors opened once again in 1865 and was moved to it’s current location in 1872. The building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1886 and rebuilt again in 1891. This incarnation stands today, the tall white steeple brushing the skyline, offers a glimpse of “the largest and oldest black congregation(s) south of Baltimore, Maryland.”
While families, a city, and a country continues to mourn, a new movement has spouted through the Southern US. In the past week, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) made a historic call to lower the Confederate Flag at the State House.
In an interview with Myrtle Beach Online, she said:
“‘What is so important for people to understand is that there’s no winners and losers here. I know people who truly respect this Confederate flag. They respect honor. They respect duty. They respect service, and that’s what they want’… “But when it’s used for hate, I can’t allow anything used for hate to be on the State House grounds and represent all the people of South Carolina. I work for all of the people of South Carolina.” (Myrtle Beach Online June 29, 2015).
It seems as though there is no lukewarm reaction to this issue. One the one hand, some people see the Confederate Flag as a piece of history, a symbol of a nation that would not stand by the edicts of the federal government. It flies for them to represent their stance against oppression of liberties and tyrants. On the other hand, there are those who feel the flag is a direct link to hatred, as it has been the backdrop for scores of burnings, hangings, intimidation, denial of civil rights, and assassinations. For them, it is also seen as a sign of oppression, and one that accompanies fear.
The questions to be posed are: Will racism be challenged if the Confederate Flag is lowered? Will people be more likely to be more educated if the flag is lowered? What are some ways that racism can be eradicated?
I am left pondering these and many more questions after the tragedy of June 17 and the other racially motivated crimes that have occurred through history. I feel this is an important topic that must be discussed with cool heads heated by hearts who hope for the advancement of humanity.
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