On this dayJun 17, 2015

Nine Black Worshippers Killed in Racially Motivated Attack During Bible Study

On June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old white man named Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and sat in on a Bible study session for about an hour before opening fire on the other participants, killing nine people. All of the worshippers were Black.

Roof kept a personal website where he posted images of himself alongside Confederate flags and icons and expressed racist views. Before the Charleston church massacre, he uploaded a manifesto to the site in which he praised George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black 17-year-old. Prior to the attack, he allegedly told friends that he hoped to incite a “race war.”

The nine victims killed in the shooting were Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, and Clementa C. Pinckney, the senior church pastor and a South Carolina state senator. Five people survived the shooting.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, known as “Mother Emanuel” to many, is one of the largest and most storied Black congregations in the South. Just six years after its founding in 1816, the church was burned down after it was discovered that Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s founders and ministers, was planning a large-scale rebellion. Black churches were outlawed in Charleston in 1834, but after the Civil War ended in 1865, the Emanuel Church reopened.

President Barack Obama delivered the eulogy at the funeral service for the Rev. Pinckney, and the church has continued to be a strong presence within the Black community in Charleston. The Rev. Anthony Thompson, whose wife Myra was killed in the shooting, said the racial attack “forced a reckoning with Charleston's history, and demeanor.” He has devoted himself to communal truth-telling initiatives ever since, inviting community members to engage in a more honest conversation about Charleston’s history and legacy of racial violence.

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