On Wednesday, June 17, 2015 an animal entered a historical edifice, Mother Emanuel African American Episcopal Church, and snuffed out the lives of nine of its law abiding and God fearing members who allowed him to worship with them. I refuse to give this animal a name in this piece because he is not deserving, however his victims were: Reverend Clementa Pinckney, 41, the primary pastor who also served as a state senator; Cynthia Hurd, 54, St. Andrews regional branch manager for the Charleston County Public Library system; Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, a church pastor, speech therapist and coach of the girls’ track and field team at Goose Creek High School; Tywanza Sanders, 26, who had a degree in business administration from Allen University, where Pinckney also attended; Ethel Lance, 70, a retired Gilliard Center employee who has worked recently as a church janitor; Susie Jackson, 87, Lance’s cousin who was a longtime church member; Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, a pastor who retired in 2005 as Charleston County director of the Community Development Block Grant Program; Reverend Myra Thompson, 59, a pastor at the church and Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a pastor, who died in a hospital operating room.
This animal’s limited and distorted knowledge of history mixed with hate had him carry out this dastardly deed in what is the oldest AME church in the south. Emanuel has one of the largest and oldest black congregations south of Baltimore, Maryland.
When I started sleeping in extant slave dwellings five years ago, there were those who feared for my wellbeing. Some thought that I could be taken out by snakes and or spiders. Some feared that I could be scared out of my wits by ghosts or the unexplained. Yet there were some who thought that I could be taken out by some racist who would much rather not have the stories of the enslaved interpreted through extant slave dwellings. That is the one idea that I dismissed the most although, I have travelled past many confederate flags to get to my destination and would not have been surprised to hear dueling banjos at some of the overnight stays. That fear did not deter me for I knew that, through this project, these historic buildings were being used for good and not evil.
Then the project evolved, I began to be joined in these overnight stays by the descendants of the enslaved and slave owners. Most recently, the project is now using these extant slave dwellings as classrooms as I am now being joined by students and their chaperones. The racial diversity of these groups is always encouraging. In the rich conversations of which we engage, we always talk about the residuals of slavery and how that institution relates to the racial strife that we encounter today.
Despite all of the progress, there are still those who don’t get it. I am often challenged, usually by white males, as to why such a project is necessary. In other words, we should be happy with maintaining the status quo by interpreting the iconic, architecturally significant big houses only. This is the same thought process that this animal admitted to authorities when he stated that he wanted to start a race war.
This animal’s knowledge of history was limited and distorted for he was quoted as saying, “you rape our women.” I am certain that most mulatto babies born to women who were enslaved were not the result of two consenting adults or minors.
Now the confederate flag debate has been rejuvenated and gun control will also occupy the conversations of many. I have no clue of how these issues will be decided.
What I do know is that the Slave Dwelling Project has never nor will it ever threaten anyone’s existence. So, Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Myra Thompson and Daniel Simmons Sr., I will dedicate all future stays in extant slave dwellings to all of you. Even in death, your lives matter.
While this animal took his limited and distorted knowledge of history and used it for evil, the Slave Dwelling Project will stay the course and use historic buildings for good.