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Charleston shooting took place at one of oldest black churches

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The slayings of nine people in Charleston wrote a grim new chapter into the history of one of the oldest black churches in the South.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is often referred to as “Mother Emanuel.”

Its pastor, The Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, was one of those killed in Wednesday night’s shooting. Pinckney also was a member of the South Carolina Senate, where he had served since 2001. The Ridgeland resident was first elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1997.

The church was founded around 1816 after Morris Brown, a free, black shoemaker and a Methodist, walked out of a predominantly white Methodist Church in Charleston, an AME Church website states.

Brown formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston and served as pastor from 1818 until 1822.

Denmark Vesey, another founding church member, led a failed 1822 slave rebellion that drove the church underground, said the Rev. Joe Darby, presiding elder of the AME Church’s Beaufort District.

After Vesey’s plot was reported, the church was burned. The church was rebuilt, but in 1834 all black churches were banned and members worshipped “underground” until 1865, when Emanuel AME Church was formally reorganized.

Emanuel comes from the Hebrew name meaning, “God with us.” On the church’s webpage is a quote: “Jesus died a passionate death for us, so our love for Him should be as passionate.”

“It’s one of the most historic churches in the country,” said Rep. Seth Whipper of North Charleston. “The church has a history of serving freed men and serving slaves.

“Because of that history, you find a lot of really, really fine people in that church, from A to Z, from top to bottom, from East to West, great people who have been serving their community on all levels, from maintenance workers to circuit court judges,” he added.

A wooden two-story church built on the present site in 1872 was destroyed by the Charleston earthquake of 1886. The present building was constructed in 1891.

Pinckney, named pastor at Emanuel in 2010, was the church’s 31st pastor since it was reorganized in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. Pinckney, 41, was a married father of two who was elected to the state House at 23, making him the youngest member of the House at the time.

Emanuel AME sits in a district served by state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston.

“When these tragedies happen in the greatest country in the world, it should be a warning to us all that we do have a problem in our society,” he said. “We have to move beyond coming together. We have to get to work. We need action. There’s a race problem in our country. There’s a gun problem in our country. We need to act on them quickly. If you just come together, that’s like going through a revolving door.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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