There are moments in American history so unspeakably tragic they crush our hearts, crater our souls. Certainly, “9/11” was such a time for all Americans. But “6/17” was yet another heartbreaking day for most African Americans. Wednesday, June 17, 2015, to be exact. On that day, racist Dylann Roof gunned down nine innocent, unsuspecting people – all black – inside historic Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator who had waged a hard and patient battle against the Confederate flag’s presence in South Carolina.
For many of us, that day brought a mix of mournful and enraged tears, not unlike those that welled up on September 15, 1963, when dynamite planted by the Ku Klux Klan blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young, black girls. Or, frankly, on August 9, 2014 when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot multiple times and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Or earlier this summer, when unarmed African-American, Spencer Lee McCain, was gunned down by police in Baltimore.
I am reminded of James Baldwin’s exceptional essays in his best-selling 1963 book, The Fire Next Time, a response to America’s social and racial injustices of the time. He wrote then, that “we, black [people] and white [people], deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation.” In the face of racism’s evil, blacks and whites have a history of supporting one another. In that spirit, Baldwin’s plea applies still today, more than 50 years later.
As many of us wrestle with America’s protracted problem of racism and the need to unite, I asked my friend, a native Charlestonian, to help by relating his experiences and knowledge of South Carolina, and his feelings in the aftermath of that state’s divisive events. My hope, and his, is that they provide a bit of perspective and peace so that we land upon a rainbow and not a fire next time. His essay follows.
By Damian Joseph
After that day, June 17th, the nation’s eyes focused on Charleston, S.C. There was shock, panic, outrage, grief, finger pointing, sadness and abhorrent celebration.
Immediately, the country unleashed a frenzy of communications. In what has become the closest our society comes to having a conversation, citizens shouted at each other from their computers, phones and studios.
Welcome to Charleston.
The nation got a glimpse of what it’s like to grow up in a place like South Carolina, where the conversation on race is vivid, alive and evolving. Yes, it is true that generally speaking, more racists live in the South. But what is also true is that the South, in many ways, is the frontline of the battle against racism. (more…)