Eulogy: For Reverend Clementa Pinckney








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.



2 thoughts on “Eulogy: For Reverend Clementa Pinckney

  1. Thank you. I appreciate learning the Pastor’s history….it IS a horrible tragedy, and I too am hopeful it will motivate us all, especially white folks like me, to think about race on a daily basis….I keep wondering how we as individuals can make reparations, since the government is not doing so…..For instance, if every white person who has enough (or anyone for that matter) gives to organizations/churches that serve the African American community….on a regular basis. Those who have enough have an obligation and responsibility to share with those who do not.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts, Susan. Yes, I wonder too. It seems to me that something quite significant should be done in the names of those slain. A series of scholarships for African American kids in South Carolina? A national partnership of black and white people committed to social justice, whom victims of racial aggression can turn to in any community through which they happen to be traveling? An interfaith coalition on social justice large enough to lobby both local and national governments? Like you, I don’t know. But I’m thinking about it, and I think we need to keep doing so.

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