CHARLESTON, S.C. — Charlestonians continued to seek healing late Sunday night, as musicians shook tambourines, choirs bellowed mournful tunes and South Carolina jazz legend George Kinney played “My Buddy” in honor of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the rest of the “Emanuel Nine,” who were fatally shot after Bible study in a church basement.
“Our seed is more powerful than a bullet,” the Rev. William Swinton Jr. told a crowd gathered for a benefit concert at Ebenezer AME church. “The funds will be used as a scholarship to help young people fight racism and all the evil things of society through education. They will look back and know that we did something more than cried.”
The Rev. Melanie Conner of the Charleston NAACP told the crowd that she knew many of those who were killed at Emanuel AME church during a racially motivated massacre in the fellowship hall Wednesday night.
“Their living and dying will not be in vain. What man meant for evil, God turned it around,” she said.
The suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, told police that he wanted “to start a race war.”
Trudy B. Lucas from the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network encouraged the crowd to join a movement to take down a Confederate flag that flies at the state capitol. “We are in negotiations and talks to rally at the statehouse,” she said. “Join us as we honor the Emanuel Nine by taking that flag down.”
Across town, thousands of people gathered in Mount Pleasant to make the long journey across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge leading to Charleston for a “Bridge to Peace” walk.
It seemed like an ambitious plan: to make a human chain across the massive cable-stayed bridge that spans the Cooper River. Organizers said they needed 3,000 people to accomplish the task. Many more arrived.
Chants of “USA! USA!” and “Charleston Strong!” broke out along the way. American flags waved and helicopters circled overhead as crowds marched across the bridge’s pedestrian walkway. As cars honked in support, the crowd roared.
Some wore T-shirts saying “#charlestonstrong” and “I am Charleston.” Others carried signs that read, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that,” a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“To be honest, it’s surprising how many more white people are here. But it’s amazing,” said Casey Huff, 22, of Charleston. “Because people say Charleston is so racist and I don’t see that at all.”
The nearby community’s response to the killings at Emanuel have been aimed at comforting one another and also proving to the world that when it comes to race, the city is moving forward.
Gina Applebee, 29, who grew up Charleston and attended the College of Charleston, said she hopes the show of solidarity is sustained well after the shock of what happened wears off.
“I love that there is this community response but at the same time, I hope for a day when it’s a collective way of being and not a reaction,” Applebee said.
For A.J. Glover, 40, an African American whose family has lived in nearby Summerville for generations, this moment is one that he hopes is historic.
“I really felt the need to be here,” he said. “We have all this talk about the flag and racism and the state’s history. . . . I think if we all come together as one people, we can get through all that.”
In particular, Glover said, he brought his son to be a part of history.
“Later on, when we’re looking back at pictures, I can tell him that when things got better in this country and in this state, I can tell him it happened right this weekend,” he said.