Humanity is a Mangled Beast: South Carolina Church Massacre

Bleeding Heart Flowers-Creative Commons

Bleeding Heart Flowers-Creative Commons

Charleston, SC (TFC) – Prayer circles unfurled like Bleeding Hearts, in Charleston, South Carolina; the Shade Perennial flowers of the South.

The small, tidy-clusters of crimson-baubles, dripping angel shaped tears, swayed symmetrical in the early summer gales- greeting sympathizers who rose in communal union.

Praying in the stormy aftermath of the massacre that occurred at a bible study, the sense of community a brutal contrast to what had transpired in the rooms of one of the oldest Negro Baptist churches in the South, a church well over a hundred years old.

This was not the case in 1963, when in the wake of more than a dozen fire bombings that summer, when four small girls perished at the Sixteenth Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama. These bombings not only galvanized the civil rights movement, they led to riots and police shootings.

Innocent African-American children were the victims of the seething-cauldron of violence and rage buckling the collective identity of a country grappling with the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws. Americas most vulnerable citizens, its black youth, had no choice but to respond to the worst of the human condition. It is not easy to justify the murder of innocent human beings. Never was an incident of such violence wrought back onto the violent, not in 1963 or in 2015.

Carol Highsmith’s photo of the Wales window at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Credit: The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s Carol Highsmith’s photo of the Wales window at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Credit: The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Carol Highsmith’s photo of the Wales window at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Credit: The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, or ‘Mother Emanuel,’ was the scene of brimming carnage, as a lone assassin lingered about, having been welcomed with open arms, sharing in scripture before unleashing a barrage of bullets that felled 6 women and 3 men.

They fell where they stood, holding their weekly Wednesday night bible study, as had been done there since before the civil war. The old church, itself the scene of many horrific events throughout its history, now has yet another indelible stain of tragedy, one that has spilled yet again on the state of race relations.

The Black Live Matters movement saturates the national psyche at a time no less crucial then when the Reverend Martin Luther King stood at the pulpit of Emanuel AME, headed towards his own place in the pantheon of assassinations in those veritable days of the1960’s.


Police In Riot Gear Ferguson, Missouri. Creative Commons

2016 democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton conversed earlier the week about the shooting, speaking with fallen pastor/State Sen. Clementa Pinckney on the the merits of body cameras for police.

The pastor had plead his case on the floor of the senate in the wake of Walter Scott’s death at hands of police in North Carolina. This latest incident bookended an  epidemic of racial violence at the hands of authorities across the countrygalvanized into the national dialogue by the events in Ferguson, Missouri, in the winter of 2014.

The story of the Black Church is exemplified in the current fires bristling in the aftermath of the South Carolina AME massacre. While still under investigation, three out of the six have been ruled as arson, occurring within weeks of the massacre.Whether by bitter irony or not, the Zion Ame church in the same state as Emanuel AME,  was burned down in the 1990’s by the KKK.

Burning and Re-Burning of Mt. Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South ... Burning and Re-Burning of Mt. Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina. Creative Commons

Burning and Re-Burning of Mt. Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina. Creative Commons

The KKK received a permit to hold a rally at the state capitol within thirty days of when the first funeral was held for 70 year old Ethal Lance,  as three-fifths of Republicans in the state legislature have voiced their opinions to retire the confederate flag from active service. Is the issue of the Confederate flag as sacred or profane a conception (or misconception) of what Ole Dixie means to the people of the United States? And whether the echo chamber claiming Dylan Roof suffered from mental illness is an excuse for justifying misconstrued narratives of historical amnesia?

The fractured response by  both political parties to the AME massacre perhaps even threatens to blow the top off the Southern GOP voting bloc: A game changer. The civil rights movement could well be entering a new moon with the second amendment forever the sacred, perpetual elephant in the room.

The politics of social conditioning that influenced Roof are intrinsically linked to his act of terror, and is inseparable from the extremist ideology of racism masked in the religious fervor of militant patriotism. Far right Southern Christian Republicans embrace that the history of slavery is not the issue, that racism has been quenched by the fact that an African American now sits at the tail end of his second term in office.

If anything, the argument for the sanctity or demise of the status of the Confederate flag in light of the 2016 presidential race will  anchor this question into the national dialogue once and for all: Slavery happened, we cant pretend it didn’t, and if this is what the South prides itself on, its rebel heritage-is not what the Civil War was fought over institutional racism as slave labor in order to preserve the Aristocratic Planter Class Elite’s way of life?

When the Puritans arrived in America to proclaim that  scripture dictated their right to all the land and its inhabitants, they quoted Psalms 2:8: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” John Winthrop, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, proclaimed that the Indigenous Native Americans had no right to the land, as they had not ‘subjugated’ it, but rather, lived in harmony with nature, something that Europeans could not fathom with the concept of private property so endemic to post-feudal existence; thus, viewing it as a ‘natural’, not a ‘civil’ right. Subject to the written word, pagans be damned.

Geneva Bible Creative Commons

Geneva Bible Creative Commons

To justify marital law, the word of god trumped all. The Puritans quoting Romans 13:2 is not a joke: “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”

Differing ideological, moral and ethical frameworks could not have made the two civilizations any more different, but that does not excuse the extermination, the genocide of the original inhabitants of the Americas; a sign of the racial violence to come in the burgeoning Christian nation.

The Reverend Richard Allen of Philadelphia organized the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church as a national denomination in 1816. Although rooted in the role of Christian Missionaries, the AME Church embraced aspects of African religion and focused on scripture that dealt with ‘the freedom of enslaved peoples.’ After the systematic decimation of the psychic fortitude of tens of millions of Africans over the course of the founding of a country, it was perhaps the last solace for dignity to offer some measure of reconciliation.

On August 22, 1831, A black preacher by the name of Nat Turner claimed to have had a vision of black and white angels wrestling in the sky, convincing him that god was announcing it was the time to strike, to rebel against the blind tyranny of slavery.

The unprecedented methods instilled to keep Black slaves tightly under the yolk, with the various means of psychological and physical torture was utilized to keep the economy of the South completely dependent on slave labor-via institutional racism at the hands of god-fearing Southerners.

Slaves on Southern Plantation. Creative Commons

Slaves on Southern Plantation. Creative Commons

Rebellion against the institution of slavery coincided with a burgeoning militant form of abolition, David Walker’s “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World,” and William Loyd Garrison’s newspaper “The Liberator,” echoed the sentiments of emphatic people in the North. Southern laws were quickly passed making it illegal for slaves to read or write; the right to assemble without white supervision-further restricting any and all remaining vestiges of anything even remotely resembling the inherent dignity of free will.

When Nat Turner led a group of slaves in Southhampton County, Virginia, to kill 60 white Americans in forty-eight hours, it seemed as if the tide of the toxic and unmitigated practices of slavery would lead to a full-fledged rebellion in the vein of the original 13 colonies against the King of England. What happened instead was a calculated and iron-clad response by the Southern Planter class that was successful enough in its ferocity that no other rebellions resulting in the mass death of slave owners occurred from 1832 to the Civil War.

Turners Rebellion News  Sheet Creative Commons

Turners Rebellion News Sheet Creative Commons

A new form of protest was beginning to percolate as it was obvious that fighting fire with fire was never going to be an option to combat  the Aristocratic Southern elite.

The African communal-folk way of life, found a  need in providing a meager seed of hope which resided in the inherent African-Americans spiritual sense of being. Black slaves adopted any and all casualties of the fractured nuclear family unit, who at times was allowed to marry and raise a family, could be decimated at the drop of a hat, families sold off for the sole purpose of psychological torture-implemented with devout ferocity to protect the Southern Planters way of life.

The insidious revelry of violence filtered through the culture of slavery in the form of religion. It became the foundation for a way of life for the oppressed to fight the oppressor, something that the Aristocratic Southern elite could not fathom would hold such sway and anchor to a marginalized demographic a sense of identity and community: Two lacking, vital aspects of human dignity denied African-American slaves bonded into vilified servitude through unspeakable means.

The Emanuel AME church has had a long and varied history, hosting a failed rebellion that resulted in its burning down, the death of several of its worshipers accused of planning the insurrection, and of hosting secret sermons when laws were passed that prohibited slaves from meeting to worship without white supervision.

As Dylan Roof settles into a life failed martyrdom, the glaring disparities of how the police treated him echo the disregard Michael Slater, the cop charged with shooting Walter Scott in the back seven times, had for the murdered man, not even offering the slightest effort at providing comfort as Scott lay on the ground, a manner of death no one should have to endure.

Dylan Roof in Custody. Creative Commons

Dylan Roof in Custody. Creative Commons

After 13 hours of continuous debate on the floor of the state legislature, and a powerful, emotion-drenched appeal by Representative Jenny Horne, who is a direct descendant of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, the flag is coming down.

The house voted 94-20 to lower the Confederate Flag from the front of the North Carolina state capitol. Echoing the senates efforts earlier in the week, Congressman  Paul Thrumond, the son of famed congressman/segregationist Strom Thurmondissued forth his own condemnation of the history of slavery he stated the flag was indelibly tied to.

That the Confederate flag that flies in front of the state capitol in South Carolina went up in 1961 as a salute to segregation, and as lunch counters replaced plantation uprisings as the new battle ground, only prods with calloused and cracked fingers at the underlying threads of Americas racially skewed historical heritage.

Its citizens right to embrace extremist ideologies are what the constitution ultimately protects.The right to free speech, the right to bear arms, and the right to religious liberty. How these will all percolate into a molten stream of rivalry or birthing camaraderie remains to be seen. Especially, in light of the 2016 presidential elections, bi-partisan politics barely contain the dissatisfaction of the peoples will with the current state of  race relations.

State House, South Carolina. Creative Commons.

State House, South Carolina. Creative Commons.