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Emanuel AME and the buoyancy of hope

LEE A. DANIELS | 6/29/2015, 12:40 a.m.
Rev. Clementa Pinckney and his fellow congregants of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, gathered as ...
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He collaborated with Rachel Robinson on her 1998 book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. NNPA

(NNPA) – Rev. Clementa Pinckney and his fellow congregants of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, gathered as usual in the historic edifice June 17 for their Wednesday evening prayer service. They came, as always, to refresh their religious faith, to testify and bear witness to the importance of living a life of righteousness and to extend to all, including the stranger in their midst, their welcome and their trust.

How could they know that he represented a monstrous evil that would consume them?

So, once again, American society has been wounded by the dangerous forces of hatred and violence that have always shadowed the gleaming idealism of the American Creed.

As usual when the mask of American innocence slips, the crowd that loves to glibly boast of American exceptionalism ran for cover. Fox News propagandists led the way in desperately fleeing from the clear evidence of Dylann Roof’s racism. Instead, they claimed he was striking against Christianity and religious freedom. Revealingly, the same pose was adopted by the Internet’s overtly White-supremacist websites and the trolls of the right-wing Twitter mob.

But Roof’s own words and Facebook posts leave no doubt of his motivation and leave no room for the cowardice of not confronting them.

President Obama gave voice to the heartache and the sadness and the anger the massacre provoked in decent people when he said, “We as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries ... with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it ... the politics in [Washington] foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. At some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”

In those words the president spoke, substitute for gun violence the words slavery and/or racism and you have why, for many Black Americans, the terrorist attack at Emanuel AME scourged a profound historically-rooted pain.

Yet, even in this moment of grief, we ought to recognize the several truths that offer the buoyancy of hope, said the president, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

One truth lies in our learning something of the very people, a cross-section of the American people, who were gunned down. Their being lost to the whirlwind of evil shouldn’t be allowed to obscure their fundamental goodness and commitment to Christianity’s most cherished precepts as shown in their families’ heart-rending declarations of forgiveness toward Roof. “We are the family that love built,” said Bethane Middleton-Brown, sister of DePayne Middleton-Doctor, during the June 19 court hearing on the charges against Roof. Middleton-Brown said her family has no room for hate in their hearts, before adding “that I also thank God I won’t be around when your judgment days comes with him.”