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CSSC Director reflects on Emanuel AME and what it means to breathe and hope

By Julia Eichelberger
Posted on 17 June 2020 | 6:16 pm — 

Many are reflecting on today’s 5-year anniversary of the massacre of nine members of Emanuel AME church on Calhoun Street, a few blocks from our campus. One of the nine was C of C librarian Cynthia Hurd, and Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s funeral was held on our campus in the TD Arena. The College Today has published a powerful interview with CSSC Director Bernard Powers, in which he reflects on the tragedy and the “legacy of hope” that is available to us today. Highlights of the interview are below. 

This is a congregation that has endured a history of severe trials – 2015 was just the most recent one. It is an example of a group of African Americans who have triumphed over a racist onslaught, and that triumph demonstrates that there are places where Dr. King’s vision of a “beloved community” still exists.

One has to have hope in order to embrace the future. They have demonstrated the motto of this state: Dum spiro spero – “While I breathe, I hope.” And while they continue to breathe and hope, the leaders there use their experiences to empower others threatened by the stultifying atmosphere of intolerance to survive and to breathe. This is why when the Pulse shootings occurred in Orlando, Rev. Deas of Emanuel went there to comfort the survivors. That is why Rev. Manning journeyed to Pittsburg to the Tree of Life Synagogue to share his experiences and comfort to leaders there who were victimized by a murderous antisemite. Members of that synagogue also returned the visit to Charleston, where they prayed with congregants within the walls of Mother Emanuel. So, in this sense, Mother Emanuel is a practical and symbolic bulwark against the forces of intolerance and brings together those intent on vanquishing it. [. . . ]

Evidence of racial inequality is even more dramatically evident today [than in 2015]. It is revealed by the racially disparate impact of the coronavirus, which demonstrates a range of inequalities based on race that influences health. Since 2015, we have had many more examples of mainly unarmed black men being mishandled and killed by police officers. These have been captured on cell phone videos. In 2015, the recording of Walter Scott’s death was unusual, but not now, and such evidence has demonstrated to so many whites that African American complaints have a real basis. This is a moment like that of the 1960s, when the civil rights movement attracted media attention in the South and the crimes against black people could no longer be denied as they were broadcast around the world via the international media. [. . .]

The ongoing demonstrations and marches now represent a difference. In 2015, a certain sense of malaise settled in over the city, it was a sense of collective trauma and also of disbelief that such an evil could occur in a sacred place. Today there is much more anger, which built up earlier in Brunswick, Georgia, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, because there were no immediate arrests, and that bred festering anger and uncertainty.  [. . .]

We should be asking ourselves: What are each of us doing to make sure that this period of social ferment is maximized to bring about substantive and lasting change? How have I and those who I know contributed to the disaffection and alienation felt by so many African Americans and whites of conscience? How can I move beyond simple personal efforts to promote change to join with others to change institutions and the way they operate to challenge systematic racism and other forms of exclusion/oppression?

Our atmosphere must be cleared of the oppressive and stultifying forces that limit our ability “to breathe” and to hope. Among the most deadly of such forces we find racism, antisemitism, homophobia and sexism, among others. We must join our forces as people of conscience and vow to vanquish them so that we can all dream dreams and take in the clear and healthy air that will allow us to achieve them for our collective benefit. Now is the time and my hope is that this moment will not be lost.

https://today.cofc.edu/2020/06/17/mother-emanuel-legacy-of-hope-five-years-later/

Dr. Powers co-authored We Are Charleston: Tragedy and Triumph at Mother Emanuel with Herb Frazier and Marjory Wentworth. He is the author of numerous articles and of the book Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822-1885.

 

 

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