They are us. Their spirits were connected with ours simply by being born gloriously Black and they are still us, the nine beautiful souls returned to God in the most blood-thirsty and animalistic kind of attack. This country’s obsession with finger-pointing terrorism turned inward on unsuspecting people in their most defenseless posture in the most unassuming place. They were studying the Word, doing what Black folks have had to do to survive, much less flourish in America since we got here. Their guards were down, their hearts were open, their eyes were watching God.
There will be months to investigate the hate-mongering terrorist who unleashed his murderous evil after sitting with and praying with and absorbing the loving energy of people who welcomed him, even though he himself looked nothing like them. Had the scenario played out in the reverse, had a menacing-looking Black man with dead, cold eyes forced himself upon a gathering of good White Christians, the reactions would’ve been different. There would have been tension. Someone would have pressed a silent alarm or covertly alerted the police. The visitor would definitely have been profiled, may have been asked to leave because his presence caused such a heightened level of discomfort. But we, by nature, are a love-filled people and the members of historic Emanuel AME demonstrated that fully.
They deserved to finish out their to-do lists for the next day—to grumble about laundry and do some last-minute grocery shopping—to attend graduation cookouts on Saturday and celebrate Father’s Day with their families on Sunday. They deserved to touch realized dreams and feel the exhilaration of goals accomplished. They should be celebrating milestones and birthdays and anniversaries and pivotal, game-changing moments of personal growth.
We will honor them by confronting the hatred that presses in on us at public pools and on city streets, and demolishes the sanctity of our houses of worship. We are done with passive restraint and polite resistance. We’ll keep praying, but our fists will be balled. We are a people in the crosshairs of systemic, in-your-face, genocidal attack. We are fighting for our lives.
Today we say their names because they are worthy, because their lives have value, because it is up to us to remember. We lift them up and offer their loved ones and our extended community condolences. And, most importantly, we will guarantee that their memories will be more than fleeting mentions in a 24-hour news cycle, but they will stick and remain in our spirits just like the Word did in theirs. God, welcome them into your eternal peace. These are our people, with love.
It’s evident from the outpouring of appreciation expressed for Singleton that she was a woman who made an impact. She was a beloved mother of three who used her own experience as a track and field athlete at South Carolina State to coach track at Goose Creek High School, where she was also a speech language pathologist. In a Facebook post, students praised her posthumously: “We love you, Coach Singleton. Gator Nation is where it is today because of your leadership. You have our thoughts and prayers.”
Singleton, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, was an ordained minister serving at Emanuel AME. In 2011, she wrote a Facebook note—in which she thanked her pastor—that is especially poignant, particularly in light of the people mourning her now. “I was sad one day and a wise man said, ‘Crying means that you still have God-given love in your heart. It's an emotional release given by God. Your feelings are legitimate, go ahead and cry, punch the pillow, kick the can and scream. It's o.k. Don't pretend. In the comfort of His presence we will find peace, purpose and joy again. Don't lose heart.”
Hurd was a lifelong member of Emanuel and had been baptized there as a baby. As she grew up, her spirituality defined her womanhood and her marriage to her husband, Steve, a longshoreman currently working in Saudi Arabia. Hurd’s brother, former North Carolina senator Malcolm Graham, told CNN that she loved God, her family, books and her community. Bible study was part of her regular as a woman of faith but, he said, “it is unimaginable that she would walk into church and not return.”
As the regional library manager for the Charleston County Public Library system, Hurd connected people in her community to the wealth of available resources. In a statement, the library said, “Cynthia was a tireless servant of the community who spent her life helping residents, making sure they had every opportunity for an education and personal growth.” The 16 branches of the library were closed on Thursday in her honor and the St. Andrews Regional Library, where she was manager, will be renamed in her honor.
On his Facebook page, Sanders posted a picture of a White man holding a sign saying, “Yes, all lives matter, but we’re focused on the Black ones right now, OK? Because it is very apparent that our judicial system doesn’t know that. Plus, if you can’t see why we’re exclaiming #BlackLivesMatter, you are part of the problem.”
His mattered too and he was on track to do great things with it. The young man graduated just last year with a degree from the division of business administration at Allen University, where he was quiet, well-known and committed to his education, according to a statement from the school. Just 26, he was the youngest victim of the massacre, but he was focused, reportedly interested in pursuing a career in broadcast journalism.
Accounts of the shooting also paint Sanders as a hero. When the gunfire rang out, according to BuzzFeed News, he shielded a relative to protect them.
Thompson, 59, was doing what she loved when she was gunned down. She was teaching Bible study, enriching the lives of others with the Word that had enriched her own. She was a graduate of Benedict College in South Carolina, a member of Delta Sigma Theta and the wife of Rev. Anthony Thompson, a vicar at Holy Trinity REC in Charleston.
Middleton-Doctor was a bright, learned woman. She earned an undergraduate degree in biology and life sciences and a master’s in management, both from Columbia College. Ultimately, she became an admission coordinator at the Charleston learning center of Southern Wesleyan University, where she’d just started working in December. She’d also just joined Emanuel in March. A 2005 retiree from the Community Development Block Grant Program, the 49-year-old ordained minister and mother of four daughters was embarking on a new season in her own life. Her friend of 15 years, Jackie Starks, describes her as a woman “loving God, loving singing and loving her girls.”
He was, perhaps ironically, a crusader against racism, using his platform as a pastor and a senator to shift social norms and public policy. Most recently, he pushed for body camera legislation and stood in alliance with other community leaders to collectively demand justice for Walter Scott. At 41, Pinckney was an accomplished man of many titles. He graduated from Allen University magna cum laude , was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and started pastoring when he was just 18. He was just 23 when he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, the youngest black person ever to do so.
He is roundly celebrated as a man of honor by colleagues in the political and secular arenas, including Vice President Joe Biden, who said, “He was a good man, a man of faith, a man of service who carried forward Mother Emaunel’s legacy as a sacred place promoting freedom, equality, and justice for all.” (Pinckney’s sister was also shot in the attack, but has not been listed as a fatality.) He is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and his two daughters, Eliana and Malana, who are forced to dread the week leading up to Father’s Day for the loss of their daddy and the senseless way he died but, at the same time, can be proud of the way he lived.
Daniel Simmons, Sr.
Simmons retired from another church but wasn’t yet done serving the Lord when he joined the pastoral leadership of Emanuel AME. He worshipped there every Sunday and regularly attended Bible study on Wednesday. Simmons was a member of Phi Beta Sigma, and like Pinckney and Sanders, attended Allen University. He is the only victim who was alive when emergency crews arrived on the scene, but he made his transition on the operating table at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Esther Lance described her mother as happy and full of joy but strong and no-nonsense, a dedicated mother of five, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of four. Following the massacre, members of her family wept outside of Emanuel AME, where Lance served for 30 years as a custodian. She was a faithful, lifelong member, there on that evening not to tend to the floors she took pride in polishing to perfection like they were her own, but to absorb the teachings that had guided her as a parent, a wife and lifelong resident of Charleston.
She was 87 and she was spry. Jackson was a longtime member of Mother Emanuel, as members called it, sang on the choir and served on the usher board. She was the eldest of the victims and her grandson, Tim Jackson, told a Cleveland television station, “It’s just hard to process that my grandmother had to leave Earth this way.” Jackson’s cousin, Ethel Lance, was also murdered in the massacre.