President Barack Obama gave a rousing speech in Charleston, South Carolina, as he eulogized state Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight other shooting victims Friday. The speech was broadcast on most of the networks and covered by the national media.
On June 17, a gunman shot and killed the nine victims at an evening Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
Thousands of people waited in the sun to attend Friday’s memorial service, which was also attended by U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. The services were moved to the grounds of the College of Charleston to accommodate the large crowd.
Obama said Pinckney, who was also head pastor of Emanuel AME Church, had accomplished a lot in his short life.
“What a life Clementa Pinckney lived!” Obama said. “What an example he set. What a model for his faith. And then to lose him at 41. Slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock.”
Obama also touched on the Confederate flag, which has become a political issue recently. Several Southern legislators, including Haley, have called for the removal of the stars and bars from state buildings. However, Obama said it would take more than removing the flag to heal some of the country’s racial division, but it would be a start.
“For many, Black and white, that flag was a reminder of oppression and racial subjugation,” Obama said. “Removing that flag from the state Capitol would not be an act of political correctness. It would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.”
Pinckney was also talked about in glowing terms by friends, family and associates.
“He was God-inspired. I think he had his calling and knew his calling,” said Jake Brown III, a cousin of Pinckney’s, in an article in The Washington Post.
The Rev. Joseph Neal said Pinckney had fought for the downtrodden throughout his political career.
“Neal recalled the triumphs of Pinckney’s work in the state Senate. He fought for state funding for those with HIV. He sought to expand health care for the poor. He pushed for legislation to ‘put more fruits and vegetables on the table’ of the poor,” according to The Washington Post.
Pinckney’s body will lie in state at the state Capitol. According to The Washington Post, he is the first Black person to be given that honor since Reconstruction.
The president also read all of the victims’ names during the memorial service.
“Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed his grace on the United States of America,” Obama said.
He then closed the ceremony by leading the crowd in singing “Amazing Grace.”
Dylann Root, the alleged shooter, carried out the massacre in the hope it would spark a race war, but it has caused both Black and white South Carolina residents to examine their state’s troubled racial history.
The New York Times said Ana Umani hoped the shooting would force the Black community to address issues such as criminal justice and economic opportunity.
“I want Sen. Pinckney’s legacy to be actual change not just an emotional one,” Umani said. “I have seen so many tragedies. And I have seen them misused for political purposes.”
Some white residents said they could no longer be passive witnesses to racism.
“White people have got to challenge it when someone says something racist in private. We have to start dealing with all this,” said Andrew Weiner, a white Charleston resident.