I am just shaken by the killing at the Charleston AME Church. Having lived in South Carolina, I visited Charleston often and I loved that church for its beautiful courageous history. It was one of the holiest places I have experienced—not the kind of holy associated with quiet and humility. Rather, it was about the history of what was attempted from that church—the attempt to free other human beings and to give dignity to them. But also I loved the displays of joy and sharing and beauty that dated back to slave days. You may not know that slaves who were thought to be illiterate were illiterate in English. But some of the church pews in Charleston actually have slaves’ names written on them in their own African language. I am so sorry for people who continue to worship and pray and try to resolve issues—and have this grievous act upon them. Please pray for them and with them.
I am a southerner. I have lived all over the South. I love the South. I participated in the desegregation marches and action in Texas in the ’60s. I know for certain that the deaths at the AME church in Charleston are not a reflection of what South Carolina wants and not what the rest of the South wants – in any way. Of course not. It was a lone gunman, acting with no support; and he was clearly not sane. However, I am afraid that this recent madness has just the slightest shadowy element of a reflection of South Carolina that I lived in 20 years ago. I moved to SC with my high school children who thought racism was a part of Mom’s old stories about desegregation and no longer a part of American society. But for the first time they heard racial jokes, saw the confederate flag flying, and found that in the ’90s there was still, though not a legalized racism, at least an acknowledgement and social acceptance of a more personalized racism. I hope that now, another 20 years later, even this is gone. But, the insistence on flying the confederate flag is not sending the right message – either to those who are prone to acts of hate or to those who see SC from the outside. The confederate flag in the Deep South may be thought of as a symbol of your land, your culture – I don’t know really. But to others it represents two things – the Civil War and racism. A history class will tell you that the Civil War was fought for numerous reasons: economics, states’ rights, etc. But if you ask 99 percent of the population in the US or elsewhere, they would tell you it was fought over slavery. So when some southerners fly the Confederate flag, it is perceived as an egregious and outdated attempt to try to defend that line of thinking. There is an ongoing move to the South in the last decade – especially the Carolinas. But given the recent actions all around this country – the deaths at the Charleston church and even the violence following police action elsewhere – there is no room for even the slightest appearance of acceptance of any type of institutionalized or personal racism. South Carolinians and others in the Deep South need to take a deep look at what they gain and what they lose with the flying of the Confederate flag. (end)
— Carla Everhart
The brutal and ghastly murders of nine African Americans as they sat in church for a Wednesday evening Bible study is a terrible reminder that white supremacy remains a danger in our communities. The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) mourns the lives lost, and calls on all people of good will to support the people of this Charleston, South Carolina church, to forthrightly oppose racism and white supremacy and to uphold the dignity of all the lives lost in the searing incident.
We remind everyone that the African-American church has been an institution of special significance, and the one place where the independent power of black people has been exercised. We call on everyone—Jews, Christians, Muslims, other faiths, and non-believers—to defend the black churches in their communities and to prevent this incident from spreading into a rash of violence directed at these churches. (end)
— Leonard Zeskind
President, Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights