The Emanuel AME Church Charleston in South Carolina is the oldest AME church in the south and one of the oldest historically black congregations south of Baltimore. It was also the site of one of the most fatal mass shootings in the country on Wednesday night.
Eight people were found dead inside the church, including Reverend Clementa Pinckney, while another victim died at the hospital. Police have identified the shooter as 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, a South Carolina native.
Here’s what you need to know about the congregation at Emanuel AME:
1. Emanuel AME Dates Back to 1787 & Has Played a Large Part in History
The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church dates back to 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was organized by Richard Allen who also found the Free African Society.The congregation expanded across the east coast and eventually found a home in South Carolina.
The church worked throughout the late 18th century to bring about the end of slavery and, in 1822, the church was actually investigated for its involvement with a planned slave result, organized by Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s original founders. Vesey’s plot created a sense of hysteria through the Carolinas and forced the congregation to rebuild the church in 1834 after it had been burned down. The current church found a permanent home in 1865 and the edifice of the church was finished in 1891 and the brick structure in front of the building was eventually restored in 1951.
2. The Church’s Current Pastor Reverend Clementa Pinckney Was Fatally Shot in the Attack
Pinckney, 41, was named the 31st pastor in the church’s history in 2010 after beginning as a preacher when he was 13. He took over as pastor at Mt. Horr AME Church on Yonges Island in Charleston County in 1999 when he was just 26 years-old.
Pinckney explained his love of preaching to SavannahNow:
That (the ministry) is my first love. I see everything I do as an extension of the ministry. It’s all about service. In the community, in the African American community, one person ought to say something and that is the minister. The minster is paid by the people. He doesn’t work for a big company. He doesn’t represent a particular special interest.
He has also been in the South Carolina legislature since 1996 when was elected as a state representative; the youngest African American ever elected to the position. Pinckney was then elected to the state senate in 2000.
3. The Church Was a Focal Point of the Civil Rights Movement in the South
In addition to working to free African American slaves in the late 18th century and early 1800’s, the church was a focal point of the Civil Rights movement in the south.
Booker T. Washington spoke there in 1909 and in 1962, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech on the steps of the church discussing voting rights and making the “American dream a reality.” That wasn’t all. Roy Wilkins, serving as executive secretary of NAACP, spoke to the masses in front of the historic church and, in 1969, Coretta Scott King led a march from the church’s steps right in front of national guardsmen.
4. The Church Was a Major Part of the Community & Was Hosting a Prayer Meeting at the Time of the Shooting
In addition to its presence throughout history, Emanuel AME was still a major part of the Charleston community. In fact, the church’s activities calendar was consistently jam-packed and the congregation was, collectively, a frequent participant in the area.
The church offered praise and worship services every Monday and Sunday as well as Bible study on Wednesday night. That Bible study was just ending, around 9 p.m. on Wednesday, when Dylan Storm Roof opened fire inside the church.
5. The Shooting at the Church is Being Called a Hate Crime
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said the shooting, and its subsequent investigation, was being considered a hate crime when he spoke to the media in a press conference on Wednesday night.
The shooting was the deadliest attack on a United States place of worship in recent history. According to the Washington Post, a white supremacist shot and killed six worshipers and injured four others at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The Emanuel AME shooting killed nine, six females and three males.
Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley discussed the event:
This is the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy in historic Emanuel AME church, the mother church of the AME churches. People in prayer Wednesday evening, a ritual coming together, praying and worshiping God. To have an awful person come in and shoot them is inexplicable. Obviously the most intolerable and unbelievable act possible. The only reason someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate. The only reason. It is the most dastardly act that one could possibly imagine.