CHARLESTON, S.C. — June 17 marks a somber anniversary in the Carolinas. Five years ago, nine members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston were shot and killed during a bible study.
The shooter, Dylann Roof, targeted the group because they were black and said he hoped to start a race war.
One of the victims, Cynthia Graham Hurd, was the sister of Charlotte City Councilman Malcolm Graham.
On Wednesday, Graham honored his sister’s life and the lives of the others who died with a march and rally at Marshall Park in uptown Charlotte.
He said he is demanding justice for black people who were killed because of their skin color.
“I’m still angry, right? Not at Dylan Roof,” Graham said before the march. “I’m angry at the system that produced Dylan Roof.”
The church was selected by Roof because of its deep history. It’s one of the oldest black churches in the country and was a focal point of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Nearly six decades later, the fight for civil rights continues.
The anniversary follows nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Graham said blatant racism in the country in the last five years has only gotten worse.
When asked what his sister would make of the protests and what has taken place in the five years since her death in terms of racial tension, Graham said she would be disappointed.
“I think what she would say is, what happened to her in that church basement was really not about her, it was about a race of people,” Graham said. “Because it didn’t matter who she was. The only thing that mattered is that they were there and that they were black.”
The rally was meant to be a celebration of their life, not death --but the current climate where we’re seeing protests against police brutality and systemic inequality only underscores how much progress is still necessary half a decade since the shooting.
Hundreds walked with Graham up to South Tryon Street Wednesday night to kneel and have a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of Floyd.
The march was not only to honor those victims, but also to fight for change.
“That’s why these men are here today,” Graham said. “Yes, for my sister and Suzie Jackson and Ethel but to fight racism.”
“This is a moment in time that we are to draw a line in the sand and say after 400 years of hatred and discrimination that it stops here,” Graham said.
Graham also said while all the focus is on the violence we can easily see such as the church shooting and George Floyd’s murder, they’re also protesting the systemic injustices in not only the criminal justice system, but health care, education and voting.
Wednesday’s rally was about police accountability, but that’s only one small part of what they’re pushing back against. The Million Youth March also gathered to remember the victims and to push for racial equality.
Graham hoped the demonstrations create change, but said people have to be open to that change and put in the work.
He said the fight for racial justice can’t be looked at as a sprint, but rather a marathon.
“We have to create change with our mind, our will and the power of our vote,” Graham said. “We have to have the stamina of a marathon runner because the issue of systemic racism will not be cured or alleviated in one week, a month, or a year.”
The in-person events planned in Charleston to honor the nine victims were canceled because of COVID-19.
There were several virtual tributes planned, including from the reading foundation Graham created that bears his sister’s name.
It included a message from former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as well as Hurd’s friends, family and co-workers at the Charleston County Library, where Hurd worked.
The library is asking the public to perform acts of kindness all month long in her honor using #ThisIsForCynthia on social media.
Two events were planned Wednesday in Charleston to mark the anniversary and the lives lost.
Representatives Joe Cunningham and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn hosted a virtual town hall, calling for action on gun violence, police brutality and systemic racism.
The massacre at Mother Emanuel AME church led South Carolina leaders to remove the Confederate flag from the capitol lawn. But as the U.S. is roiled again by more shocking deaths of African Americans, South Carolina isn’t removing more monuments of historical figures who repressed or oppressed blacks.
Republican leaders like House Speaker Jay Lucas said in 2015 they would not consider any more changes after the Confederate flag came down and have kept their word.
And state law protects monuments without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
Statement From Governor Henry McMaster
Gov. Henry McMaster released the following statement on the 5th Anniversary of the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church:
“Five years ago, we lost nine beautiful souls at Mother Emanuel and our state was shaken by an unspeakable act of hatred and ignorance. But evil did not win the day. Love, compassion, strength, and faith – exemplified by the families of the Emanuel 9 – reigned supreme.
“We must not simply remember the lessons learned that day and in the days and weeks which followed. We must carry them with us each day, recognizing that although evil and tragedy exist, the unifying effects of grace and love abound and conquer all.”
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