Clementa Pinckney was called to serve his community. The 41-year-old came from a long line of preachers and progressives: his family tree had generations of pastors in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina; his great-grandmother fought for integrated primaries; his uncle fought for desegregated buses with the NAACP. Clementa himself began preaching at 13 and was a pastor at 18. He earned master’s degrees in both Divinity and Public Administration. Following in the family tradition, he worked as both the senior pastor at “Mother Emmanuel” and served as the youngest Black state legislator in South Carolina. He united Methodist bishops after Walter Scott‘s death to push for required police body cameras.
Daniel Simmons knew what it meant to serve. The 74-year-old earned master’s degrees in Social Work and Divinity and set about serving his country and his community. He served his country, earning a Purple Heart during his Army tour in Vietnam. He served his state, working as a teacher and counselor for inmates in South Carolina prisons. He served the Church, working as minister for over three decades. Even in his retirement, he continued to serve, leading bible study at Mother Emanuel, where his standard dress of suit, hat, and spit-polished shoes earned him the name “Dapper Dan.”
Ethel Lance was a caretaker. As family matriarch, the 70-year-old Charleston, South Carolina, native took care of her five children, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. As custodian of the Gailard Municipal Auditorium, she took care of the famous venue and delighted in dressing up to attend its productions. As sexton of the Emanuel AME Church, she took care of the historic building; as its usher, she took care of the congregation. If “Mother Emanuel” had a human face, it was hers.
Susie Jackson was Ethel’s cousin and another fixture of Mother Emanuel. The 87-year-old was a trustee and an usher, sang in the choir and served in the missionary society, and, of course, attended bible study Wednesday. Her extended family was almost as big has her church family. Between her children grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, she was the mother figure to almost 50 children, who she would visit at school graduations and family reunions.
Tywanza Sanders was Susie’s nephew and an entrepreneur. The 26-year-old started out with a lemonade stand outside his mom’s shop, but by the time he was in high school decided he wanted to open a neighborhood barber shop. He earned his barber’s degree and then a BA in Business Administration (from the same alma mater as his pastors Daniel Simmons and Clementa Pinckney), and went to work as a licensed barber, building a client base and learning the ins and outs of running a shop. His college experience also ignited Wanza’s (as his friends called him) creative spark, and he began to write poetry focused on the Black experience. He often joined his aunt for Wednesday bible study at Mother Emanuel.
Cynthia Hurd lived to help children. Though the 54-year-old Charleston native had no children of her own, in her 31-year tenure as librarian at the Charleston Public Library she helped countless children as they learned to read, studied for school, and prepared for job interviews. She helped Black children from poor communities explore the city’s historic districts. She worked to keep housing affordable so those children could stay and grow in Charleston. A lifelong worshiper at Mother Emanuel dedicated to public service, her only vice was shoes. As one of fellow librarians noted, “She had a fierce shoe game.”
DePayne Middleton Doctor’s voice was “so angelic, it could move the very depth of your heart.” The 49-year-old daughter of a minister grew up singing in church and had a powerful alto that could fill the rafters with joy and uplift the souls of the people listening. And uplift people is what she did: as a grant administrator with the U.S. Census, helping Charleston’s poorest communities; as an admissions coordinator a Southern Wesleyan University, helping college students grow their faith through education; as a minister at Mother Emanuel, tending to her flock.
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton – “Tookey” as her family called her – was always moving forward. The 45-year-old New Jersey native was a gifted sprinter and hurdler, which earned her a scholarship to college. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech pathology and began her career as a speech pathologist in Georgia schools, helping children find their voices. She was active in the church, teaching Sunday School classes and serving communion to parishioners. She often spent her summers in Charleston, were she served as a lay minister at Mother Emanuel.
Myra Thompson was a teacher. The 59-year-old was passionate about education, and knew from the beginning that learning and teaching was what she wanted to do with her life. After earning education master’s degrees in Reading and Counseling, she devoted her life to working as an English teacher and a guidance counselor at several public schools in South Carolina, especially those serving underprivileged communities. Though she had retired, the fire to teach still burned in her, so Myra was working towards ordination in the Church. She had recently been re-licensed to preach, and was looking forward to teaching once more – leading the night’s bible study lesson at Mother Emanuel for Dapper Dan, a lesson she was especially excited about: the Parable of the Sower, and casting seeds of faith into fertile soil.
These Black men and women are the Emanuel Nine. They murdered by a white supremacist on June 17, 2015 while praying during bible study at Mother Emanuel. Hoping to ignite a race war, the shooter went to the church and, when the congregation started to pray, opened fire. He fired for six minutes. Clementa, who was leading the prayer, was the first to be shot. Daniel raced to aid the wounded despite being shot himself; he would hold out until paramedics arrived. Tywanza dove in front of his aunt Susie to protect her; they would both be shot. (Tywanza’s mother and niece, thankfully, would survive by pretending to be dead.) The shooter reloaded five times before running out of ammunition and fleeing. He was caught in North Carolina the next day and extradited back to Charleston. Not only did cops manage to not shoot, strangle, or paralyze the white shooter during his capture and transport (who at that point was known to have murdered nine people in a church), they also brought him Burger King when he complained he was hungry.
Black lives matter.