Today is the fifth anniversary of the horrific massacre at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I want to first take a moment to say the names of the nine people whose tragic and senseless deaths must not be forgotten:
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor
Cynthia Graham Hurd
Susie J. Jackson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney
Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders
Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr.
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson
We remember them and mourn the senseless taking of their lives.
When these nine people arrived at Bible study the evening of June 17, 2015, along with five others who would survive, they didn’t know that a visitor they openly welcomed had spent months spying on the church. They did not know he had selected this city and this church specifically. And they did not know he would open fire as the group shared a final prayer.
They also could not have known that their murders would become a flashpoint in the nation’s ongoing struggle with symbols of the Confederacy on public land. Their killer’s embrace of the Confederate battle flag sparked a renewed call to take down the symbol of oppression that flew in front of the South Carolina Capitol in Columbia. Less than a month later, after 54 years on display, the flag was removed from statehouse grounds.
We know that symbols have real power, and that a society representing itself with a flag honoring white supremacy and the enslavement of Black people has little chance of achieving true racial justice. That’s why we recognize, through our Whose Heritage? work, the progress that has been made since 2015, with a total of 100 Confederate symbols, including 58 monuments, having been removed or relocated from public spaces across the country. The U.S. Navy and the Marines have also introduced bans, and some military leaders are considering renaming bases that honor Confederate commanders. But this isn’t enough. We affirm our commitment, especially on this somber anniversary, to pushing for the removal of all symbols of the Confederacy on public lands.
Black lives matter. They mattered 155 years ago, in repudiation of what the Confederacy insisted. They mattered during the racist terrorism of Reconstruction and the state-sanctioned segregation of the Jim Crow era. They mattered throughout the hard-won progress of the civil rights movement. And they matter today, as thousands of us have taken to the streets to protest against police brutality and other forms of racism that still oppress Black people every day.
Black lives mattered, too, on that night five years ago, when nine people were killed at Mother Emanuel. We will not forget them. There is much work to be done to ensure that killings like theirs don’t ever happen again.
To end hate, we must dismantle white supremacy and oppression in all its forms. At the SPLC, we are challenging hate through our work, supporting educators in teaching the truth about our history to a new generation, remaining vigilant in monitoring more than 900 hate groups in the country and pushing elected and military officials to remove more than 1,700 Confederate symbols across the country.
We owe it to the Emanuel Nine – and to millions of others who have lost their lives to white supremacy and racism – to continue onward undaunted.
Photo by Alamy Stock Photo