South Carolina’s transplant community in the nation’s capital gathered Wednesday to mourn the nine people fatally shot inside a historic Charleston church and to celebrate the power of forgiveness and resolve shown by families of the victims and the state in the massacre’s aftermath.
Palmetto State expatriates, black and white, who were rocked by last month’s massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church filtered into an office atrium adjacent to the U.S. Capitol, swayed and sang along with Washington’s AME choir and listened to comforting words from the state’s top members of Congress.
“Just think for a few moments of the reaction of South Carolina, the reaction of Charleston, but more specifically, the leadership of nine suffering families just 36 hours after the unthinkable,” Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., told the gathering of 200. “Their leadership breathed hope in a way that no one else could have done.”
At the initial court hearing for Dylann Storm Roof, charged with nine counts of murder in what authorities called a racially-motivated incident, relatives of the murdered worshipers said they forgave the alleged gunman.
The shootings sparked debate nationwide about the state of race relations in America and prompted South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to call for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds. South Carolina’s Senate voted to remove the flag and the state’s House of Representatives is considering the action.
Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the assistant democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, said a new South Carolina is emerging from the pain of last month’s massacre. He said he witnessed the winds of change during his annual July 4th weekend on Lake Marion.
“Forever, you’d see boats and, every now and then, you’d see the Confederate flag waving from the boats,” he said. “From Wednesday through Sunday, I saw a couple of hundred boats. I have yet to see a single one of them with the Confederate battle flag. This is what this incident has done to South Carolina. So I come today to thank you for being a part of this – for help restoring the hope that all of us have that coming out of this experience will be a day that all of us can look back on and see a blessing in the experience.”
Wednesday’s gathering was organized by the South Carolina Business Council and the South Carolina State Society as a way for area transplants to grieve and show support for the families of those who died in Emanuel AME.
Organizers handed out cards that listed various tax-deductible funds that attendees could contribute to help pay victim’s families pay for funeral costs, counseling or college scholarships for the Emanuel AME community.
Reginald Waters, 47, who moved to Washington from Spartanburg, said he had to attend Wednesday’s event to show his support for Charleston.
“Being from South Carolina, I wasn’t able to go to any of the services,” said Waters, president of AED Inc., an engineering firm. “There’s a large South Carolina community here. I wanted to be prayerful and thoughtful and pay my respects to the nine who died.”
Earlier Wednesday, several Charleston church leaders, relatives and friends of the Emanuel AME victims went to Capitol Hill and joined Clyburn, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and officials from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in calling for Congress to vote on gun control legislation.
They rallied for a bill sponsored by Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Peter King R-N.Y., that would expand background checks to all commercial gun sales, including those purchased online and at gun shows.
“I’m here today for my Aunt Myra and to speak on behalf of the Charleston community and all who are sick and tired of Congress ignoring the problem of gun violence,” said Andre Duncan, whose aunt, Myra Thompson was one of the murder victims at Emanuel AME.
After Duncan and others spoke, they ended their remarks by saying “We are Charleston.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version misspelled Reginald Waters’ last name.