CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – As we prepare to mark six years since the tragedy at Emanuel A.M.E Church, Rev. Eric Manning reflects on the atrocity that left nine people dead simply because of their skin color.
LISTEN: Carolyn Murray talks to Rev. Eric Manning in this week’s episode of Let’s Talk
He was pastor at a Bethel A.M.E. Church in Georgetown when the shooting occurred. “My daughter was on Facebook and said there was a shooting at the church, and I said that’s impossible, I would have heard about it. As soon as I got those comments out of my mouth my phone rang,” he recalled. “That’s how I learned about that evening.”
He asked about his friend and colleague, Sen. Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney. “The next morning, early in the morning, I made my way to Charleston.”
A self-professed white supremacist had driven from Lexington County to kill the people at the historic Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston.
He researched the church and knew people would be there that night.
Six women and three men killed that night. State Senator Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, and Myra Thompson.
Five people also in the church that night survived the shooting – Rev. Pinckney’s wife, Jennifer and their daughters, Felicia Sanders and her 5-year-old granddaughter, and Polly Sheppard.
Several children of those who were murdered forgave the killer after he was captured and appeared in bond court in Charleston County.
“You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. Have mercy on your soul. It hurt me, it hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you.”
Rev. Manning explained there is pain and power in forgiveness. It is still recognized, and it takes more work, more effort to forgive than to be angry.
“We talk about a racist act, even what had taken place here … we don’t forget, but we forgive. We do our best to work through making sure that the issue is addressed and is corrected, ergo social justice,” he said.
We know that social justice has always been part of the work of the A.M.E. church. Rev. Manning has spoken and been very passionate about pushing for hate crime legislation in South Carolina.
“I’m immensely troubled that the hate crime legislation – the Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act – has not gotten out of the Senate yet. I’m praying that it will. I’m always a little perplexed about the South Carolina law process, but it seems as if for the past few weeks, the Senate was debating on open carry or another type of legislation that, in my most humblest of opinion, doesn’t deal with one of the root issues that continues to affect and dominate within our community. How do we prosecute hate crime legislation? For South Carolina to be one the last three remaining states that do not have hate crime legislation within the state is immensely troubling.”
He went on to say, “I thought that it would get done and I remember someone asking what would happen if it doesn’t… I said I believe it’s going to get done because I believe that there are still enough people within Columbia who know that it’s the right thing to do and they’re going to do it.”
It did not pass in 2021. “We must continue to share with others the importance of passing this legislation,” said Re. Manning. “We must stand with those who are the least of these. We must continue to cry out as loud as we possibly can against police brutality.”
Ministry is in Rev. Manning’s DNA. “I cannot see me doing anything else, even at times when it has been a relatively low point – when I have figured, you know, it’s probably time for me to give a final benediction and exit. But God continues to remind me that it is not up to me. My choice is always a choice of service and a choice of obeying commands that I feel God has put upon my life.”
But what has changed at Mother Emanuel in the six years since that tragic night? Rev. Manning says the church has continued to learn, depend on, and trust God. “It’s not always easy, and there are always struggles, from a Nyemiah perspective, outside and inside. We have been able to continue to stand on a wall within the community and continue to be that voice of one cry in the wilderness, to continue to share from a social justice perspective, and stand in the gap and pray for the community and meet the community where they are and let them know they are not alone. We continue to do what God has called us to do.”
A number of events will take place over the next week to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the June 17, 2015, shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church including a virtual forgiveness forum that evening and a virtual Bible study. To learn more or register for events, please click here.