White supremacist Dylann Roof stands trial this week for the June 2015 deaths of nine black parishioners in this historic church, the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore.
Above, Mother Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC
Early in its history, in 1814, its leaders were arrested for violating a state law prohibiting the gathering of enslaved and free blacks without white supervision. In 1822, nearly thirty years before the Christiana riots and nearly forty years before John Brown attacked Ft. Sumter, former slave Denmark Vesey–a man once owned by a slave trader–laid plans for a slave revolt in Charleston, drawing from the church’s leadership and energy. When the plan was discovered, the church was burned. Vesey’s son rebuilt it. Today, it stands as the second largest AME congregation in the United States.
A statue honoring Denmark Vesey stands in Charleston’s Hampton Park. The statue was erected only a little more than a year before Dylan Roof murdered nine congregants of Mother Emanuel. Even today, many white South Carolinians object to honoring a man who invoked violence to free slaves, even as the city honors many, many white slave owners.
Dylann Roof didn’t choose Mother Emanuel AME by chance. He understood it to be exactly what it is: a potent symbol of threat to white supremacy, a physical reminder of black uprising against white oppression.
You can send the congregants your support this week at:
Mother Emanuel AME Church
110 Calhoun Street
Charleston, SC 29401