Sometimes, Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina thinks about the civil rights leaders who came before him. He thinks about the sacrifices that he had nothing to do with. And it gives him hope, he says, even in the midst of what some say are deteriorating race relations.
“So often,” he said, “we spend so much time on only the miserable part. And sometimes we forget about the amazing progress that has occurred in a fairly short amount of time. And the progress that has occurred was purchased by human blood. And sacrifice. And tears.”
Scott, along with Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., co-hosted a panel discussion Wednesday evening in Washington on racial reconciliation, joining survivors and families of victims of the Charleston, South Carolina, massacre that took place at the Emanuel AME Church just over a year ago.
There was a small group of attendees at the event _ probably no more than 100 people were in the audience _ and a somber mood as the names of the nine parishioners killed last June were read by Joan Mooney, president of the Faith and Politics Institute, an organization that offers spiritual guidance to members of Congress and their staff, particularly on matters of race.
Primarily, the panel discussed how to find common ground and move forward in an era of growing political and racial unrest. For Clyburn, the answer could be found in the history books.
He recalled the first time he met Martin Luther King Jr. _ there were divisions in the movement about how best to go about achieving equality _ who, instead of spending his allotted one hour with the non-violent student group, spent six. From that day on, Clyburn began poring over King’s books, finding comfort in the civil rights leader’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.
“King said in that letter, ‘Time is never right. And it’s never wrong. It’s always what we make it,’” Clyburn said. “And I, from that day till now, have refused to be silent when I see things that should not be, or when I fail to see things that should be.”
But Clyburn also expressed concern that racial relations in the country were not where they should be, sharing an anecdote about telling his 21-year-old grandson to suppress his manhood and to forget that he is a grown man if ever stopped by a police officer.
“That’s a heck of a thing for me to stay to my grandson,” he said. “But that’s what I feel I had to say to him from my own experiences.”
Scott echoed Clyburn’s sentiments about learning from history, adding that in order for the country to move forward, it needed to look at its past and memorialize even its darkest history.
He also praised the families of the nine victims for their ability to forgive the alleged shooter, which he called a “triumph sound of God’s glory speaking through a human voice.”
Each of the family members in attendance who were part of the panel _ Alana Simmons, who lost her grandfather; her father Daniel Simmons; and Melvin Graham, who lost his sister _ spoke briefly about the challenges they faced in forgiving the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, a white supremacist.
“Forgiveness for us is a journey,” Graham said during the discussion. “It started with shock and horror and numbness. It progressed into pain. And now, I believe speaking for my family, we’re at that point of acceptance.”