Holy target: Charleston church a symbol of black freedom in the South

Holy target: Charleston church a symbol of black freedom in the South

On Wednesday night, a gunman walked into a church in Charleston, killing 9 people, including the pastor of the church, and six women in what authorities describe as a “hate crime.”

The gunman, identified as 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, struck at the historic heart of the black community in Charleston.

Known as “Mother Emanuel” to those in the community, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church has long been tied to African American culture in Charleston. Its congregation is the oldest of its kind in the south.

Speaking during a civil rights event in February, church pastor Sen. Clementa Pinckney touched on role of the church in the community. Pinckney was killed in the attack.

“Where you are is a very special place in Charleston,” he told those gathered in the church.

The church, said Pinckney, isn’t just a place of worship but “a beacon, bearer of the culture and a bearer of what makes us a people.”

The building itself was built in 1891 but the congregation goes even further back.

Emanuel’s congregation was investigated for involvement in a planned slave revolt in 1822. A prominent church founder, Denmark Vesey, had organized a major slave uprising in Charleston, but authorities were informed of the plot before it could take place.

The church, rebuilt after it burned to the ground, survived until 1834 when all black churches were outlawed. A PBS profile of Vesey describes why he was an important figure in the fight against slavery.