CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – On June 17, 2015, 12 people were gathered at Emanuel AME Church for an evening bible study when a stranger walked in. They invited him to worship, in what for nine of them would be their final earthly act of kindness.
That stranger would turn out to be a radicalized white supremacist who carried out what is still regarded as one of the most grizzly and brazen hate crimes in recent history.
In the days after the massacre, an outpouring of support for survivors and those impacted by the tragedy from all corners of the Lowcountry and the nation. Then-President Barack Obama traveled to Charleston to deliver a eulogy for one of the victims, rightfully shifting the focus from the trauma of the event to the healing power of unity.
Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said that while June 17, 2015 was the saddest day of his life, the days after were some of the most proud in his 40 years in office.
“The way the community responded to this most unspeakable act was beyond anything, and I’m a positive minded person, that I could ever have imagined. People, the morning after, right there on Calhoun Street, white people and black people together, hugging each other, wiping away each other’s tears.”
Seven years later, we remember the survivors and victims and strive to carry on the legacy of love and acceptance that was left in the wake of the devastation.
SC Senator Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was the church’s pastor at the time, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson were all killed in the shooting.
Three people in the room at the time of the shooting survived, including Tywanza Sanders’s mother Felecia Sanders, her granddaughter Ka’mya Manigault, and Polly Sheppard.
Rev. Pinckney’s wife, Jennifer Pinckney, and their then six-year-old daughter, Malana, were in another room across the hall at the time of the shooting. They also survived.
In a 2022 interview with News 2’s Carolyn Murray, Manigault broke her silence on the experience. She said that she survived because her grandmother told her to play dead. Though traumatized, Manigault said that she is okay. She credits her relationship with her grandmother and creative outlets like poetry for helping her cope.
The seven-year anniversary will be commemorated with a national bible study focusing on the passage that parishioners were studying the night of the shooting: Mark 4:1-20, The Parable of the Sower/Soils.
The event will be nationally televised, and several prominent Lowcountry figures, including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D), former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, and current Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg will be in attendance.