Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was impacted tragically.
Church has always been the corner stone of sanctuary for African Americans seeking solace, a place of refuge from the daily grinds of life and social oppression. The church has also been a place where local community politics were hashed out and discussed, a sacred place where one has felt the safety of taking part in prayer, a meal, counseling and hope for a better day through prayer.
But, on Wednesday night on June 21, that all changed. Nine people died during a prayer service; six women and three men were brutally shot in cold blood as they engaged in prayer. They were shot and killed by a 21 year old white male Dylann Storm Roof, who entered the church with the intent to murder innocent people taking part in that prayer service. His reason was, as he told it, “he wanted to start a race war.”
This was a church that had seen much tragedy since it was founded, a church which has the largest African American congregation south of Baltimore. The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest African Methodist Church in the Southern United States.
Here are a few facts about “Mother Emanuel” A.M.E. church. It was founded in 1865 with founders Rev. Morris Brown and Denmark Vesey. Its membership is 1,600 and capacity is 2,500. Clergy: Bishop Richard Franklin Norris, Senior Pastor: Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Governing Body: Private, Style: Gothic Revival, Part of: Charleston Historic District. In 1818, Vesey was among the founders of an AME Church in the city, which later became Emanuel African Methodist Church. A plan was discovered that Vesey was planning to kill slaveholders in Charleston, liberate the slaves and sail back to the Republic of Haiti for refuge. He was found guilty of planning the slave revolt and executed on July 2, 1822.
This tragedy struck close to home when it was revealed that one of the victims of the shooting was Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a reverend at the church and 45-year-old mother of three who coached the girls’ track team at Goose Creek High School in Goose Creek, S.C. Coleman-Singleton was originally from Newark, N.J. and was a speech-language therapist since 2007. Coleman-Singleton was a Montclair State Univeristy alumna, having earned her Master of Arts from the university.
Additionally, there have been incidents in the past in the area involving the public display of the confederate flag; one incident in particular involved Montclair State University, which centered on a sorority scavenger hunt. Kappa Delta Psi allegedly hung the flag over its Greek Letters in the cafeteria after returning from a sorority scavenger hunt. The flag offended quite a few people and attracted a very heated response from an African American student who saw it in the cafeteria. After seeing the flag displayed, the student went to the Organization of Students for African Unity (OSAU). The representatives of the Delta Kappa Psi, the OSAU, the campus Greek Council, the Student Government Association and several collage administrators worked out a solution.
On Nov. 17, it was decided after a Greek Council vote of 19-16 that the entire fraternity do community service. Each student would perform community service and an additional mandate stated that the fraternity institute a campus-wide program on racial unity and hang a banner over its table promoting harmony.
There have also been several musical groups known to fly the flag, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kanye West and Brian Setzer. Of these few that are mentioned, Lynyrd Skynyrd has been the most vocal in saying that he will continue to fly the Confederate flag at the band’s performances as recently as a few days ago.
After the shooting incident, I was numb and could not get the fact that this was the first time a hate crime of that magnitude had taken place inside a church of all places. I kept asking myself why of all places. We now know the answer to that question. Montclair has several churches that host large African American congregations, I wish them and their parishioners a safe journey.