"The 9/11 of the Black Church": Mourners Flock to SC as Funerals Begin for Emanuel Massacre Victims

June 26, 2015

Democracy Now! broadcasts from Charleston, South Carolina, in front of the Emanuel AME Church, Mother Emanuel, where nine people were gunned down on June 17 as they attended Bible study. On Thursday, mourners gathered for the first two funerals in a series of services that will continue today and over the weekend. Loved ones remembered Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a 45-year-old mother of three, reverend and high school track coach; and Ethel Lance, a 70-year-old grandmother who had worked at Emanuel AME for more than three decades. The funeral for Emanuel AME’s pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, also a state senator, will be held today. President Obama will deliver the eulogy. Outside Rev. Pinckney’s wake on Thursday, the line wrapped around the block. We hear from some of those who came to pay their respects. "To me, it’s the 9/11 of the black church," says Rev. J. Michael Little. "We snatched victory out of this. [Dylann Roof] wanted civil war, but instead it’s a rally for unity."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Charleston, South Carolina, right in front of Emanuel AME Church—that’s Mother Emanuel—where on June 17 nine people were gunned down in the basement as they attended Bible study. We’re on Calhoun Street, named for one of the most prominent pro-slavery figures in history—yes, John C. Calhoun, the late senator and vice president, who argued slavery was a "positive good" rather than a "necessary evil."

Well, on Thursday, people gathered to attend the first two funerals in a series of services that will continue today and over the weekend. Loved ones remembered Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a 45-year-old mother of three, reverend and high school track coach; and Ethel Lance, a 70-year-old grandmother who had worked at Emanuel AME for more than three decades. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley attended the services, along with Reverend Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. This is Ethel Lance’s granddaughter and grandson.

AURELIA WASHINGTON: I want everybody to know that my grandmother is a wonderful, wonderful, precious woman. And we don’t have no hate for nobody, because our power of love is stronger than ever.

BRANDON RISHER: Ethel, E-T-H-E-L. E, everybody in this room. T, tough, tough love, tough love. She will show you tough love. That’s just because she wants you to strive and do better. H, her. Again, that’s everybody in this room. E, equality. She believed in that. And L, love. That’s Ethel. That’s everybody in this room.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, thousands filed past the body of the Emanuel AME Church’s pastor, 41-year-old Reverend Clementa Pinckney, also a South Carolina state senator, as he lay in state at the Capitol, one of the few African Americans to do so. His body had to be brought past the Confederate flag at the state Capitol, the symbol embraced by the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof. On Thursday, Reverend Pinckney’s body was taken to Ridgeland here in South Carolina, his hometown church, and then to Mother Emanuel right here in Charleston, where again thousands lined up around the blocks to see him, among them activist Austin McCoy, who drove to Charleston from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and described what it was like inside the church.

AUSTIN McCOY: I walked through and saw his body. And yeah, it was just striking how they put a microphone in one hand, or his microphone, and a pair of his glasses, and had him dressed in his religious garb. It was, yeah, really quiet, heavy, you know, obviously very emotional. I mean, I’m still trying to process what I just saw.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Pinckney’s funeral will be held today at the College of Charleston, not far from where we are now, with President Obama offering the eulogy and first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton all in attendance. This is Reverend McKinley Washington Jr. speaking at Reverend Pinckney’s wake on Thursday.

REV. McKINLEY WASHINGTON JR.: Whoever thought that a little black boy from Jasper County would bring the president of the United States of America and the vice president of the United States of America to Charleston County? And he paid the price for you and for me. And because of that price, things positive would happen in South Carolina, changed folks’ hearts, changed South Carolina. So long, Brother Pinckney. We love you, brother. [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: Outside Reverend Pinckney’s wake, the line wrapped around the block. The wake was scheduled to end at 8:00 p.m., but it was after 9:00 when police finally closed off the line, moving in the barricades. Outside the church, we spoke to some of the people who came to Mother Emanuel to pay their last respects.

REBECCA DANIEL DUGGER: Rebecca Daniel Dugger. I’m from Atlanta, Georgia. And, actually, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton was our sorority sister. And so we’re here to honor her. We were here for her funeral services today and to just show support to the people of Charleston. She was a mother. She was a coach. She was a minister. She was a woman of God, and she was a woman of service. And she took in all people, all kinds of folks. And she just would minister to them, not only about the gospel, just about life. And so, she was just a beautiful, beautiful person. And she instilled that also in her children. And so, we are just here really to uplift her and support her.

REV. J. MICHAEL LITTLE: I’m Reverend J. Michael Little. I’m a pastor in D.C. at the Friendship Baptist Church in D.C. This is my wife Marie.


REV. J. MICHAEL LITTLE: And I’m basically just traumatized by—

AMY GOODMAN: You flew down?

REV. J. MICHAEL LITTLE: We drove down. We drove down. We actually just got off the road from D.C. You know, we feel like this is a terrible moment in history. We just want to be a part of it. We want to pay our respects, be in prayer and be in solidarity with all the folk down here. It’s—to me, it’s the 911 or the 9/11 of the black church. It’s just—it impacts all of us. And we pastors are profoundly affected, so we couldn’t not come.

MARIE LITTLE: Exactly, exactly.

REV. J. MICHAEL LITTLE: Yeah, we just absolutely had to be here.

MARIE LITTLE: And we’re just shaken and trying to come to grips with it and—but trying to be just like the parishioners here and saying, "You know what? Love trumps all."

REV. J. MICHAEL LITTLE: We’re actually snatching victory out of this. I mean, think about it. He wanted a civil war. He wanted social conflagration. Instead, it’s a rallying point for unity.


REV. J. MICHAEL LITTLE: I mean, hopefully he can see the news and catch glimpses of what’s going on because of his actions. It’s the—

MARIE LITTLE: Total opposite.

REV. J. MICHAEL LITTLE: It’s evil inverted. It’s just, you know, the way this has turned out.

MOURNERS: [singing] Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, I’m free.

ERIC SNYDER: My name is Eric Snyder. I’ve lived here five years, from New York City.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re starting a petition?

ERIC SNYDER: I am. I’m starting a petition, and I put it on yesterday. And it’s to rename Calhoun Street to Reverend Clementa Pinckney Street. The indignity that a church that has suffered so much as this one in the history of Charleston has to have as its address John C. Calhoun.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain his significance.

ERIC SNYDER: He’s one of the most important American figures in support of white supremacy. The quotes that he has are just beyond understanding in America 2015 why anyone would honor a man like that. And I do know today, I read online, that some congressmen are starting to look at the John C. Calhoun Memorial in the Capitol rotunda as something that needs to be discussed.

AMY GOODMAN: John C. Calhoun, the former U.S. vice president and U.S. senator—

ERIC SNYDER: Senator, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —who said slavery is good.

ERIC SNYDER: Yes. He has a lot of quotes defending slavery, and also he has quotes that basically say that this is a battle between the white race and the black race. 2015, that’s not a man to honor.

MOURNERS: [singing] O my Lord, I am on the battlefield for my lord.

REV. JACQUELINE DUPREE: My name is Jacqueline Dupree. I’m a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Gainesville, Florida. And my hope is to get into the church today. I’ve been to two of the funerals today, homegoing celebrations. And my thoughts are still a little bit discombobulated. I’m hurting, I’m in pain, just like everybody else. And I pray that out of this tragic, tragic event, that love will still abide. That’s been the whole message the whole time, that love overpowers and is more powerful than hate. And I hope that that just continues to happen as we go through these next days and weeks and months, as we mourn the loss of nine beautiful souls. Yeah.

MOURNERS: [singing] We are soldiers in the army
We got to fight, although we have to cry
We got to hold up the bloodstained banner
We got to hold it up until we die.

AMY GOODMAN: So, as the funerals take place, there’s also the controversy over the Confederate flag. Your thoughts on that?

REV. JACQUELINE DUPREE: Take them down. Put them in their proper place, in order that healing and love may continue to flow, flourish and abide.

AMY GOODMAN: Just some of the people who came here to Mother Emanuel, to the Emanuel AME Church, to pay their respects on Thursday. When we come back from break, as we await the funeral, the Obamas will be here, Vice President Biden and many tens of—many thousands of others, just around the corner at College of Charleston. We’ll be back in a minute with guests here in front of the church. Stay with us.

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