If the walls of Emanuel AME Church could talk, they would have quite a story to tell, and at times a tragic one. Founded in 1816, it is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the southern U.S. and was the first independent black denomination in the United States.
The church was established by African-Americans pursuing their God-given right to equality and the ability to worship freely. In 1818, white officials retaliated by raiding the church, arresting 140 members of the congregation and subjecting them to fines and lashes. The church was raided on two other occasions, in 1820 and 1821.
The pattern of harassment became even more brutal when, in 1822, white oppressors burned the church down and executed 35 men, including church founder Denmark Vesey, for their involvement in a slave revolt plot. The congregation rebuilt the church following the Civil War, and the current building was constructed in 1891. Over the years, the church has hosted such notable African-American leaders as Booker T. Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Wyatt T. Walker.
Emanuel AME has witnessed many anguishing events in our nation’s civil rights history. But the massacre of nine church members, shot inside the church by a 21-year-old white supremacist, was a recent tragedy – June 17, 2015. Those killed were Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Susie Jackson, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance and Daniel Simmons. Two years after the tragedy, on June 17, 2017, Emanuel AME announced construction of a memorial at the church to honor the nine victims.