The Terrorist Attack on the AME Church

The Terrorist Attack on the AME Church June 19, 2015

By Cal Sr from Newport, NC, US (Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, photo by Cal Sr from Newport, NC, US [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Since hearing the news of the massacre in Charleston, I have set aside all of the posts I’ve been working on. I know that this country is riddled with racism, but there is something about an attack on churches in the black community that just fills me with dread. At a time when many of us are shouting that “Black Lives Matter!” this massacre comes as a terrorist’s response.

It is not an accident that he selected a black church. There is a long history of racist attacks on black churches in our nation. Nor is it happenstance that he selected this particular church. It is very old and its story is inextricably woven into the history of America’s oppression of black people.

From the church’s website:

In 1822 the church was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt. Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s founders, organized a major slave uprising in Charleston.

Vesey was raised in slavery in the Virgin Islands among newly imported Africans. He was the personal servant of slavetrader Captain Joseph Vesey, who settled in Charleston in 1783. Beginning in December 1821, Vesey began to organize a slave rebellion, but authorities were informed of the plot before it could take place. The plot created mass hysteria throughout the Carolinas and the South.

…During the Vesey controversy, the AME church was burned. Worship services continued after the church was rebuilt until 1834 when all black churches were outlawed. The congregation continued the tradition of the African church by worshipping underground until 1865 when it was formally reorganized, and the name Emanuel was adopted, meaning “God with us”.

Over the years, the church was central to the struggle for civil rights. Booker T. Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. both spoke there. In 1969 Coretta Scott King led a march that ended at the church where demonstrators were met by national guardsmen wielding bayonets. The pastor was arrested.

There should be no question about why the church was targeted by a man who sported the flags of racist Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa on his jacket.

He was not mentally ill. He did not seek to attack the Christian faith or prayer or religious liberty.

He is a racist. He is a terrorist.

Like so many vicious racists before him, his hatred for African Americans led him to terrorize their entire community.

We’ve seen this before. We should know what it means.

No attempt to deflect or ignore the motive for this attack can hide the continuing power of racism to rule the emotions and affect the behaviors of so many of our fellow citizens.

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States of America barely eked out a ruling permitting Texas to refuse to provide a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate flag. The only reason that its refusal was upheld was because Clarence Thomas, whom liberals have rightly excoriated for many of his decisions, was unwilling to join his fellow conservatives who see no reason why anyone should be denied a government-issued license plate with the image of the Confederate flag.

Photo by eyeliam via Flickr [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Photo by Jason Lander via Flickr [CC BY-SA 3.0]

That symbol of hate – which for millions of people bears a message no different than the flag that features a swastika – remains on the license plates of nine other states.

One of those states is South Carolina.

Today that flag flies high atop its post on the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol, mocking the memories of those precious lives taken by the terrorist’s hate.

If you really want to understand how this could happen in our country, look no further than that flag. The answer lies there.

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