God, we welcome and invite you
into this place, your house.
We thank you for the spirit
that dwells here, the spirit
of Denmark Vesey, the spirit of
R.H. Cain, the spirit of
Dr. King–the spirit of so many
unsung heroes of our people.
We also thank you, God, for all persons
who come seeking to expand their horizons
and learn more of what our country is made of,
who we are as a people and as a country. We pray for
the safe travels of all who are here and for
the safe return of them as they
go back home. We hope that our time here spent today
will be seen as an act of love,
as well as an act of righteous indignation
in the face of injustices
and we pray that all persons here today
may feel your presence and be drawn
closer to you. In Jesus’s name we pray.
Drawn to the ministry at thirteen; class president;
student body president; a pastor at eighteen;
state representative at twenty-three; magna cum laude;
two master’s degrees. Your name the same
as a local plantation. Your name the same as so many
in my husband’s Charleston high school class.
You preached in the house Pastor Vesey built,
shuttered for forty years after he was hung
for conspiring an uprising. You preached
in the house where Dr. King
called on Negroes to vote. You spoke
on the senate floor
in a voice so richly literate,
so judiciously rhythmic,
so humane we could not help but hear
Dr. King’s in it. As a people, as a country, I know,
we would give anything
to hear it again.
The massacre of nine people on Wednesday, June 17th at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina, is a tragedy of national proportions. I feel strongly that this is a time for all Americans to act in whatever way we can to address the racial hatred that lives on in our country in ways both great and small. This is the first of a series of poems honoring the victims of the Charleston shooting.
The words that open this poem are those of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, from a speech given during the 2013 Civil Rights Ride. I discovered it in an article in the Atlantic, which addresses the perils of pastoring a church “baptized in blood and fire.” More information about the late Reverend Clementa Pinckney is available from Emanuel A.M.E. Church.