Month: June 2015

Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church: A World Heritage

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The Church steeple in 2013

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

On June 17, 2015, during a routine Bible study at the church, a white man about 21 years old, later identified as Dylan Roof,  purportedly said: ” I come to kill black people.” before opening fire at close range killing nine people including the pastor. .  In a manifesto posted on the now defunct (, Roof purportedly claimed allegiance to ‘white supremacy’ and the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Roof, unemployed and living in largely African-American Eastover at the time of the terrorist attack, according to a childhood friend, went on a rant about the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the 2015 Baltimore protests that were sparked by the death of Freddie Gray while Gray was in police custody. He also often claimed that “blacks were taking over the world”. Roof reportedly told friends and neighbors of his plans to kill people, including a plot to attack the College of Charleston, but his claims were not taken seriously.

One image from his Facebook page showed him wearing a jacket decorated with the flags of two nations used as emblems among American white supremacist movements, those of Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) and apartheid-era South Africa. Another online photo showed Roof sitting on the hood of his parents’ car with an ornamental license plate with a Confederate flag on it. According to his roommate, Roof expressed his support of racial segregation in the United States and had intended to start a civil war.

The following Sunday, June 21, 2015,  ‘Mother’ Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church opened its doors for service. All were welcome.

Charleston, S.C. – Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Southern United States and houses the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore, Maryland. Its members met in secret in the years when Black churches were outlawed in the southern slave states before the civil war, and it contains a shrine to Denmark Vesey, a founding member, who helped plan a slave revolt in 1822.  Denmark Vesey’s planned revolt was so well designed that it was kept secret by his executioners for five years out of fear that it would excite slave rebellions throughout the South.

Known affectionately by its member as “Mother Emanuel”, Emanuel African Methodist Church was founded in 1816 by African American former members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, who left the church because of a dispute over burial grounds.  In 1818 a church leader, Morris Brown, left a white church in protest, and more than four thousand Black members him to this new church.

State and city ordinances at that time limited worship services by black people to daylight hours, demanded that a majority of congregants in a given church be white, and prohibited black literacy.  In 1818. Charleston officials arrested 140 black church members and sentenced eight leaders to fines and lashes.  City officials again raided the church in 1820 and 1821.

In 1822, Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s founders, was implicated in an alleged slave revolt plot.  Vesey and five other alleged organizers were executed on July 2 after a secret trial, and the original church was burned down by “white supremacist” before being rebuilt.  However, in 1834 all-black churches were outlawed in Charleston, and the congregation met in secret until the end of the civil war in 1865.

After the war ended, Bishop Daniel Payne installed Reverend Richard H. Cain as the pastor of the congregations that would become Emanuel A.M.E. and Morris Brown A.M.E. In 1872, after serving in the South Carolina Senate (1868-1872), Reverend Cain became a Republican Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, continuing a tradition of religious leaders serving in political positions.

The congregation rebuilt the church between 1865 and 1872 asa wooden structure, under the lead of architect Robert Vesey, the son of the abolitionist and church co-founder Denmark Vesey.

After an earthquake demolished that building in 1886, President Grover Cleveland donated ten dollars to the church to aid its rebuilding efforts, noting that he was “very glad to contribute something for so worthy a cause.” However, being a Democrat, he also donated 20 dollars to the Confederate Home, a “haven for white widows.” The current building was constructed in 1891. The location of the post-Civil War churches is on the north side of Calhoun Street; blacks were not welcome on the south side of what was then known as Boundary Street when the church was built.